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Rail Safety Week

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Whether it’s the introduction of new rolling stock, timetables or a company structure, change poses a risk to safety and must be considered carefully. 

That was one of the key messages from Rail Safety Week’s inaugural conference, which was held at RSSB’s Moorgate offices in London on June 24. 

RSSB chief executive Mark Phillips mentioned Keith Williams’ Rail Review as a particular risk, and told audience members this was stressed in RSSB’s submission. 

Mark’s thoughts in the opening presentation were later echoed by chief inspector Ian Prosser, director of safety at ORR, who said he was in regular communication with Network Rail’s transformation team to ensure its reorganisation is safety validated.

Ian, who joined the rail industry as a result of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash in 1999, said: “It is so important that change is managed because you can spend years and years trying to get better and you can lose that in a moment and, basically, all hell breaks loose.”

Representatives from BTP, CIRAS, RSSB and Network Rail covered key safety messages from their respective sections of the industry as part of the conference – the headline event in Rail Safety Week’s 2019 programme of events to provide an industry focus on safety.

Among the line-up were speakers from two organisations not usually represented at safety conferences: the Railway Benefit Fund (RBF) and the Scouts Association. 

President Pete Waterman explained the work of RBF and how Charles Dickens became an early benefactor following the Staplehurst rail crash in 1865.

Mark Hislop, commercial director of the Scouts, was there to talk about a successful partnership it established with CrossCountry in 2017 to launch a Cub Scout Personal Safety Activity Badge as part of a strategy to reduce rail crime in the UK. More than 34,000 Cub Scouts have since earned the badge. 

In his opening speech, RSSB’s Mark Phillips told delegates that despite the UK’s rail safety record being transformed since World War Two – it is now the safest railway of the top 10 major railways in Europe – there remains a lot to do to reduce safety risks further.

For example, in the past six months RSSB has noticed an uplift in risks around signals passed at danger (SPAD) and level-crossings. Mark also revealed that nine of the 18 rail worker fatalities in the last decade were as a result of driving.

Platform-train interfaces and trespass are two big areas of work for RSSB.

Trespass costs the rail industry £16 million a year and is also a major focus for BTP, as Assistant Chief Constable Robin Smith explained. In 2018, there were 10,108 such incidents. 

A recent trend has seen BTP faced with people either protesting or in a mental health crisis taking up precarious positions at stations, bridges or other parts of the infrastructure, causing significant delays across the network. 

A nine-hour incident at Leeds station on May 30 saw a man climb the station gantry. Only when a negotiator was called was he talked down. As a result, thousands of passenger journeys were disrupted at a cost of over £1 million to the rail industry. The man has since been jailed for six months. 

Asst Ch Con Robin Smith said: “The rail network is a magnet for people in mental health crisis and the rail industry will work with the Samaritans to help frontline staff to support them.”

Steve Longden, trespass improvement programme manager at Network Rail, told delegates that 70 per cent of trespass incidents take place at or within 100m of stations and that different placements of different types of fencing, gates, lighting and signage are being trialled to try and mitigate this. 

He also noted that the ‘You vs Train’ campaign, organised in association with BTP, is helping to significantly reduce trespass incidents at targeted hotspots.