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Essential focus on safety

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The dramatic growth in rail passenger numbers in the UK is presenting a fundamental challenge to the industry’s safety performance, says Network Rail safety director Graham Hopkins.

Speaking at the Rail Safety Summit on 5 May, Hopkins said that the need to operate more services was shortening the window for Network Rail to carry out maintenance and renewal works to a point that there was a risk projects could be ‘rushed’.

Graham was appointed group director for safety, technical and engineering, in June 2015. Previously, he had been executive vice-president of engineering and technology, aerospace component engineering at Rolls-Royce. He said, ‘That is the environment that we’re living in… that happens everywhere on the network and it’s only going to get worse.’

Currently, 1.7 billion passenger journeys are made on the British rail network every year – 34 per cent more than five years ago. That number is expected to double over the next seven years. ‘How do we live with that increase safely?’ he challenged.

‘Although there have been no workforce fatalities on the railway so far this year, the number of people being injured on the railway remains a concern. On average, every month 50 employees are involved in an incident which prevents them from being able to return to work the following day,’ said Graham.

Graham was, however, upbeat about Network Rail’s performance as a whole, confirming that the organisation was meeting its safety objectives and was on course to achieve its CP5 target on level crossing closures. Network Rail is currently in the process of closing its 1,000th crossing. ‘We can never give up on achieving that zero number,’ he added.

The Rail Safety Summit was held at the Royal College of Physicians, London, on 5 May. The morning session focussed on fatigue. Speakers included Mark Young from RAIB, Jill Collis from Transport for London (TfL) and Johnny Schute OBE, a former chief environmental and safety officer in the British Army, from ORR.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, and Atkins’ David Nancarrow spoke about how their respective organisations are addressing health and wellbeing issues within the industry. Finally the afternoon sessions, which included speakers from AECOM, Colas Rail, TRL, ABC Electrification, HS2 and Bridgeway, dealt with the topics of road risk and highlighted the innovative approaches that are being used to address workforce safety issues.

Look out for Colin Wheeler’s full conference review in next month’s issue.