The annual report of the Office of Rail and Road was issued on July 19th. Its key message is that our railways are the safest they have ever been but there is room for improvement. It heralds a year without a railway worker fatality; nonetheless it comments that their Inspectors “found that rules and procedures were not always implemented consistently”. Although it claims that there was “good collaboration across the industry”, we discussed the extent to which this reached front line track staff.
Ian Prosser Chief Inspector HMRI
I was surprised after entering the One Kemble Street offices to find that the identification lanyard I was wearing after signing in was labelled for the Civil Aviation Authority. But the size of the office block explained all. The interim Chief Executive of the Office of Rail and Road (they have recently acquired responsibility for Highways England too) is Joanna Whittington who has been on post since January 16th this year.
Ian Prosser as Chief inspector of Railways and the Director Railway Safety was appointed on 26th September 2008.
He studied for his first degree at Imperial College London and worked for Metronet Rail/London Undergound before joining the ORR. In his review as Chief Inspector of Railways Ian asks whether or not Bad Aibling could happen here? (You may recall this was the dreadful accident caused by human error that occurred on February 9th in the Magfall Valley in Germany when two passenger trains collided head on resulting in 12 fatalities and 85 people injured).
Scope for improvement
The ORR report needs to be read in the knowledge that main line passenger numbers have risen by some 57% over the last ten years. It acknowledges that harm to the public and passengers on trains and platforms increased by 8% last year. Ten passenger and public fatalities were recorded, the highest number in a decade.
It was no surprise to me to read the assertion that although harm to the railway workforce has reduced the Inspectorate had found “insufficiently effective arrangements to manage some faulty basic worker construction health and safety risks such as manual handling”, together with delays to the planned roll out of safety enhancements for infrastructure workers.
Manual handling was one of the areas in which the Inspectorate took enforcement action. The same thoughts are applicable to the report’s assertion that there is scope for Network Rail to improve its stewardship of earthworks, bridges, tunnels and viaducts.
Praise for London Underground
Conversely London Underground is praised for the “good practice in management of contractors and its supply chain”.
The report adds, “in 2015/16 there was a focus on individuals responsibility for behavioural safety which challenged the traditional controls used: site best practice guides used pictures not words, to communicate key safety messages during work planning and construction phases – a shift in the way messages are delivered – and something from which other sectors might benefit”.
Renewals deferred but few additional speed restrictions?
In this world of jargon, (much unnecessary unless it is intended to confuse) RM3 refers to the Railway Management Maturity Model used by the ORR to measure safety performance.
Despite a 30% reduction in RIDDOR accident reporting, their recent evaluation of Network Rail’s position identified a need for “better safety leadership and governance at senior level”.
They also comment that safety initiatives “often fail to translate into front line improvements” and note a great variation in levels of management maturity with assessments ranging from ad hoc to excellent!
These results took into account information gathered by unannounced sampling site visits to a number of Route Asset Managers.
In the second half of 2015/16 Network Rail revised their renewal plans due to “financial constraints”. The deferral of renewals inevitably led to increased reliance on maintenance and the expertise of staff to manage failing track geometry.
I discussed this with Ian Prosser ORR Chief Inspector of Railways when I met him in Kemble Street Offices in central London on July 21st. I asked whether or not the result of the deferred work had been a significant increase in the number of consequential speed restrictions that had been imposed. Ian assured me that this was not the case!
Planning and Delivery of Safe Work – delayed!
The Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) have understandably criticised the voluminous method statements and briefing documents that are now regularly produced and sometimes partially read.
Network Rail’s initiative known as “Planning and Delivery of Safe Work” (or PDSW if you must), only surfaced briefly. I was told that it had met with numerous problems within the maintenance function.
Section 2.8 of the report is blunt; “the trial of the new safe worker role on the East Midlands route failed at implementation stage because of insufficient resourcing, an insufficient IT platform, the culture and competences of existing frontline managers and unnecessary self-imposed deadlines”. I am not surprised by this conclusion!
Ian Prosser went on to agree that one of the problems with the current system is that the Controller of Site Safety is often not the most senior person on site.
Network Rail have now set a new baseline, are looking at how things are currently done at track level and are also looking at how they may best influence the culture and motivation of track staff.
Need to involve those “on the front line”
This initiative having gone back to involving track level front line people I believe will give it a greater chance of success.
We next discussed the initiative currently in hand to progress to automatic track warning systems to protect staff working whilst trains are running. I suggested that London stations such as Liverpool Street might be good places for trials and early proving usage. Ian responded by suggesting that future work at Waterloo might be an opportunity for the inclusion of automatic track warning systems for track workers as an element of a “safety by design” initiative.
I commented on my own experiences of being protected by such an installation over a decade ago at Zurich’s Main Station. Ian expressed the view that the current RAIB class investigation into Red Zone working is likely to provide useful information with which to prioritise initiatives to reduce risks to those who work on track.
Implementing RAIB recommendations and reviewing RSSB
I pressed Ian on the speed of his pursuance of RAIB report recommendations. He emphasised the pressure he exerts to close out the actions needed.
Whilst he acknowledged that there are currently 136 outstanding recommendations he pointed out that 42 of these are less than a year old. During 2015/16 17 enforcement notices were issued together with 6 prohibition notices (four fewer than the previous year).
A total of four prosecutions were completed resulting in the imposition of fines totalling £802,000. During our conversation, Ian emphasised the regular and in-depth discussions he regularly has with Simon French from the RAIB.
Whilst we discussed the work of the RAIB he told me that one of the tasks allotted to the ORR is a five yearly independent review of the work of the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB).
Although the last such review was carried out in 2010 the following one will not be completed until November this year. The delay was agreed to allow time for both their new Chief Executive and Chair to be appointed and settle in.
Fixed earthing devices on the way!
I asked about the involvement ORR has with the Department for Transport; major projects and policy was the answer. He stressed that the Department does not get involved in day to day matters.
However there have been discussions on the client role under the latest Construction, Design and Management Regulations. I hope to learn more at the September Meeting of the Rail Exec on September 15th at Drapers’ Hall!
Current initiatives being ecouraged by the ORR include trials of fixed earthing devices for both DC and AC electrification. DC is being looked at first and already three trials have taken place. Delivery of viable systems is due by the end of Control period 5.
Track engineering expertise
I questioned the level of unannounced railway inspector visits to track sites. Ian Prosser made it clear that such visits are important to him and that he is proud of the fact that his inspectors warn others that he himself can and does pop up when he is not expected.
His team of inspectors are required to spend over half of their time carrying out worksite inspections which is I suggest a good principle. He mentioned specific areas where he has had concerns about the competency of Network Rail Track Maintenance engineers particularly in respect of cyclic top, twist and how best to both identify and treat these and other track defects.
Throughout our discussion (and that I had a few weeks ago with Simon French of RAIB) I have been impressed by the fact that all our views coincide in a number of areas.
Ian’s commitment to getting out on track unannounced and seeing for himself what is going on is laudable. We also talked about the importance of cab riding and hearing train drivers’ views.
I was encouraged to hear that his inspectors are required to spend half of their time on site with the front line workforce. Both organisations are evidently convinced that more needs to be done to increase the safety culture and hence motivation of those engaged in physical work on our mainline railways.
Ballast scratched boots for all!
There is also a recognition that technical engineering competency levels vary and are in some places inadequate for the job in hand. “Ballast scratched boots for all”, I suggest as a worthwhile slogan for the future to reflect the need for a step change in the competency, commitment and culture of local management, front line supervisors and those working on track.
I commended the example of the British Rail safety campaign some decades ago when a group of respected local track working supervisors were brought together to look at and either agree to or reject all track safety improvement plans. It worked then and resulted in well over a year without a track fatality!