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LRSSB under review

The progress of the light rail safety and standards board (LRSSB) is under scrutiny and its organisation, membership, and objectives have been questioned.

The term Light Rail dates back to 1896. It was coined when legislation was passed by Parliament allowing local agreement to the construction and operation of rail-guided transport using lighter equipment, and operating at lower speeds than heavy rail. Tramways have a more specific definition being rail-guided but operating using a significant element of street running.

The existing Birmingham-based Light Rail Safety and Standards Board (LRSSB) was set up in 2018 following publication of the (RAIB) Rail Accident Investigation Board’s report of the Sandilands Croydon Tram accident in 2016 (Report number 18/2017). Its founding was triggered by a recommendation made in that report, but there was some delay before funding was secured.

The recommendation called for “the development of a new body to enable more effective UK wide cooperation on matters relating to safety and the development of common standards and good practice guidance.” The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) adds that it must now question the degree of progress on this and the other recommendations. It has been suggested that the name of the organisation, membership, and objectives should be updated.

There is an obvious comparison to be drawn with the Rail Safety and Standards Board which has earned the respect of the heavy rail industry, but the diverse nature and number of light rail developments over the years makes the work of LRSSB more difficult.

A light touch review

Responding to an invitation from the directors of LRSSB, the ORR launched a review of its operations as a part of its role as the “statutory regulator and enforcing authority for railways and tramways” and the “custodian of recommendation 1 from the RAIB report”. The review is intended to “consider what has been delivered by the LRSSB, the impact of funding on their work and whether in its current form it enables LRSSB to grow and fully commit to the terms of reference.”

On 18 October, ORR published the “Terms of Reference” for its review. ORR has said it will conduct a “light touch review” aimed at assessing the delivery of the RAIB recommendations. It has also said that “a comprehensive review could be conducted once the LRSSB has matured, and its funding has long term security”.

RAIB Recommendations

One recommendation refers to the “use of technology such as automatic braking and systems to monitor driver awareness”. The second called for “a systematic review of operational risks and control measures associated with the design, maintenance and operation of tramways”. The third recommended “suitable measures to automatically reduce tram speeds if trams approach higher risk locations at speeds which could result in derailment or overturning”.

Recommendation four calls for research into systems capable of “reliably detecting driver attention state and initiating appropriate automatic responses if a low level of alertness is identified”. Number five mandates that “owners, operators and infrastructure managers should review signage, lighting and other visual information available and required by drivers on the approach to high-risk locations such as tight curves.” The sixth calls for “a review of research to identify ways of improving the passenger containment provided by tram windows and doors”.

A combined organisation?

The adequacy of funding is under review. It would also be good to see more information about the development of a “Tram Accident and Incident Reporting Database” for sharing information, and how it may best assist RIDDOR reporting of accidents and the reporting of incidents as well as the implementation of appropriate research.

The parallels with the work of LRSSB’s big brother RSSB need to be taken into account as does the restricted membership of the Light Rail Group. Maybe Light Rail should be an integral part of RSSB with its own identity? This could benefit them both and clear the way for a combined organisation.

Author – Colin Wheeler.