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Rail still safer and greener than road

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Britain’s railways remain the safest and greenest forms of land transport, but there is no room for complacency.

The independent rail safety body RSSB has published its latest Annual Health and Safety Report for Britain’s railways, covering the last financial year 2020-21.  

A year like no other saw rail grappling with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a significant drop in passengers, all while ensuring the railways remained safe for people to work and use.

A train journey is still over 20 times safer than travelling the same distance by car, meaning any shift from public to private transport would have a detrimental effect on safety, health and the environment, according to RSSB.

Three people died in a train derailment at Carmont in August 2020, following 13 years with no passenger or workforce fatalities in accidents of that type in Britain. Conversely, there are at least 1,500 fatalities on Britain’s roads reported every year.

While the comparison is stark, this takes nothing away from the tragic effects that poor safety performance has on the workforce, passengers and public, as well as the wider economy.

RSSB are keen to state that safety cannot be taken for granted while the reforms prompted by the Williams-Shapps plan are brought in. Safety will be critical to maintaining the confidence needed by people and freight to return to rail, which in turn, will improve Britain’s economic and environmental prospects, meeting people’s needs and help people to rediscover quality of life.

The rail body has been keen to ensure that its members are Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railways, industry’s shared strategy that focuses on the key risks and challenges.

RSSB’s data analysis has boosted rail’s understanding of Covid transmission risk, making it easier to manage decisions and put in the right controls, for different levels of restrictions and passenger numbers..  

Experts are also helping Network Rail undertake analysis of earthworks examination and failure data, and develop a system risk model to help identify the appropriate operational response to forecasts of extreme weather.

RSSB has also provided data and risk analysis to support the move away from working with unassisted lookout protection, and reduce the risk to the workforce out on the track. This comes after two infrastructure workers were struck by trains and killed in separate incidents during the year; one at Roade in April 2020, and the other at Surbiton in February 2021.

In spite of their role as critical key workers during the pandemic, there was a big increase in the number of  assaults on staff in proportion to the number of passengers travelling. RSSB has produced tools to help rail companies manage the risk of assaults and trauma, and industry is continuing to work closely together to ensure the numbers come down, and staff are better protected.

RSSB’s Director of System Safety and Health, Ali Chegini said:

“Fundamentally, our Annual Health and Safety Report 2020-1 shows that Britain’s railways can continue to be proud of a formidable safety record that makes the train far safer than other transport modes.

“The industry’s response to the pandemic was heroic, keeping the nation’s critical workers and supplies moving to where they needed to be, all while handling safety and the impact of Covid simultaneously.

“The fatal train accident at Carmont as well as the workforce fatalities at Roade and Surbiton show that we are not infallible. These are indicators of big challenges where improvement is needed, and where RSSB is playing a part, through industry collaboration and its strategy: Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railways.

“As we move into an era of reform post the Williams-Shapps plan for rail publication, we will need to make sure the industry continues to work together closely to monitor risk and make the right interventions. Our members, funders and wider rail users can count on us for support, and we will continue to help rail become healthier and safer together.”

About the Annual Health and Safety Report 2020-1

There is a dedicated webpage on the Annual Health and Safety Report. From here you can download all the relevant reports and watch the video: CLICK HERE

The Annual Health and Safety Report 2020/21 is supported by 13 topic-specific reports. These combine the latest information on health and safety performance, operational learning and risk reduction initiatives.

Of the 13 reports:

• One provides an overview of rail safety in 2019/20.

• Eleven are structured around the priority risk areas in industry’s strategy Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railway

• One provides an update on industry activity to improve risk management capability

The key headlines for 2020-21 are:

  • There was a 78% reduction in passenger journeys
  • 3 passenger and workforce fatalities in train accidents
  • 1 passenger and public fatality in stations
  • 3 workforce fatalities (not in train accidents)
  • 16 public fatalities at other locations (11 were trespassers, 5 occurred at level crossings)
  • 253 suicides or suspected suicides

Leading Health and Safety on Britain’s Railways (LHSBR)

This strategy identifies 12 key risk areas where safety and health performance need to be improved. It suggests tangible ways to improve and innovate, making railways safer and healthier for all. The key to success is working together and making commitments to achieve future improvements.

More information can be found on our website.