RAIB released its annual report in may, the first under its new chief inspector, Andrew Hall. Following its investigations, 31 recommendations were made to 36 organisations and seven recurrent themes are identified. All are worthy of note to the industry.
RAIB’s seven themes or areas of concern are: (i) track worker safety; (ii) the safety of people getting on and off trains; (iii) railway operations; (iv) management of bad weather operations; (v) freight wagon maintenance; (vi) user worked crossing safety; and (vii) management assurance.
I agree with them all but would suggest that there is also work to do in respect of many signalling-centre-worked level crossings, due to signaller workloads and the information with which they have to work. Recent incidents indicate that signallers, regularly and under unusual circumstances, may have scant information for safe decision making.
Back in 2019 RAIB began issuing ‘summary of learning’ reports. These continue and are valued for their use in the industry. In his foreword to his first report Chief Inspector Andrew Hall highlights the Salisbury accident on 31 October when two passenger trains travelling at speed collided. He notes that 14 people, including one of the train drivers, were hospitalised as a result. That accident is still under investigation.
“The latter half of 2021 saw a number of very serious and some fatal accidents interactions between people and trams which are now subject to investigation” is the bald statement made in the report. Trams are an area where I forecast that we will see increasing activity. Although the audit of the Light Rail Safety and Standards Board concluded on a positive note, there is more to do to improve the safety of trams, metros, and light railways.
In the conclusions to his first annual report as Chief Inspector, Andrew Hall comments that: “there are numerous examples where data that provides evidence after a railway accident could, if known about and used to drive action, have been used to avoid the accident happening in the first place. The data may be there, but the managerial wherewithal to best use it to reduce risk, is not always present.”
Meeting the challenge
The report features good use of specific examples of investigated accidents covering all seven of the identified current themes. But what is missing, which would reduce accidents and improve performance, is the introduction of sufficient ORR inspectors with cab and signalling centre access, as well as others with ballast-scratched track boots. They need to be located around the system in sufficient numbers to allow them to make both scheduled and, most importantly, unannounced site, train, and location visits.
To meet the challenge this would pose for front line management, I recommend that supervisors and all managers with authority to agree work plans and to stop unsafe working should spend the majority of their time visiting places and sites of work, speaking with and listening to those who are at work.
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