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Monday, December 1, 1997 Published at 11:22 GMT


Warning over rail safety
image: [ Rail companies 'failing' on saftey standards ]
Rail companies 'failing' on saftey standards

Some British rail companies are failing to improve safety on cost grounds, according to a new report by the Health and Safety Executive.

Some rail employers are even 'misusing' the industry's system of risk assessment as a justification for reducing safety levels, the report says.

"The most common justification is that maintenance of the existing situation is too costly and thus is not reasonably practicable," said Stan Robertson, the HSE's Chief Inspector of Railways.

"Our position is that reducing existing safety standards is not good practice," he said. "I expect operators to go that extra step in the pursuit of safety rather than stop as soon as figures indicate that they appear to be justified in doing so. When in doubt decisions should, in my opinion, always be on the safe side."

In his foreword to the HSE's 1996-97 report on railway safety, Mr Robertson added that some railway managers thought they had nothing more to do once their safety plan - known as a safety case - had been approved.

He went on: "Consequently they take umbrage if a Railway Inspector asks for something to be modified to make it less dangerous. The reality is that no safety case can cover all physical features and human aspects of a particular organisation - there will always be room for improvement."

Safety details in the report were first announced in August 1997 and show that vandalism on the railways are increasing at a "massive" rate.

The HSE has now set up a working group on trespass and vandalism with the purpose of developing action points and a nationwide strategy.

"I believe that vandalism will probably be the greatest threat to safety on the railways for the foreseeable future," said Mr Robertson.

The HSE statistics for the 12 months ending in March 1997 revealed:

  • Arson was the cause of 64% of passenger train fires.
  • There was a 53% increase in trains running into obstructions deliberately placed on tracks.
  • Fatalities, at 25, were the lowest ever, as were incidents of people killed (two) from falls from trains.
  • For the first time for 50 years, no one travelling in a car or other road vehicle was killed at a level crossing.
  • Deaths from trespassing on the line rose, with these fatalities including 10 children under the age of 16 - the highest figure for seven years.
  • One passenger died in the August 1996 crash at Watford, Hertfordshire, but no rail staff were killed in train accidents.
  • The number of accidents actually or potentially the most dangerous to passengers was 105 - one more than in 1995-96 but well down on the 1994-95 figure of 151.

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