Memorandum by RMT (National Union of Rail
Maritime and Transport Workers) (RI 02)
In noting the terms of reference of the Transport
Sub-committee's inquiry into rail investment, my Union wishes
to draw their attention to our related concern that the financial
penalties for which Railtrack may be liable in the event of train
delays could be having an adverse effect on both the safety of
the railway and those employed to maintain it's infrastructure.
In this respect, track workers are finding it
increasingly difficult to gain totally safe access whereby the
movement of trains are stopped on the line(s) concerned (green
zone) in order to carry out the necessary maintenance and renewal
work. The reason is that Signallers are under direction not to
grant green zones where it may cause a delay to trains unless
it is to repair a fault which itself is already causing delays.
Instead the track workers often still have to rely on the less
safe but traditional "lookout" system (red zone) which
requires them to react to a warning and move to a position of
safety before the train arrives.
The penalty payments arise in the first instance
from the performance regime which exists with the train operators
whereby Railtrack are required to make penalty payments to them
if the average delay to trains attributable to the infrastructure
exceeds the agreed benchmark. In the second instance, an enforcement
order issued by the Rail Regulator for the year to 31 March 2000,
required Railtrack to reduce delays by 12.7 per cent or face a
swingeing fine of what we now know could amount to some £10
million. This bears no comparison to the mere £1.5 million
fine Imposed on Great Western Trains for an offence under the
Health & Safety at Work Act following the Southall train crash.
A method of work based upon constant interruptions
caused by the passage of trains obviously affects output. Similarly,
there are now some places where everyone agrees it is simply far
too dangerous for staff to work under "red zone" conditions.
As such, restricted access must impact upon the degree to which
adequate maintenance and renewal of the infrastructure can be
safely carried out. Furthermore, the increasing usage of the railways
is multiplying the problem inasmuch as it causes more wear and
tear on the infrastructure, but at the same time permits even
less opportunity for staff to undertake the necessary maintenance
and renewal work.
The RMT believes that any regulatory system
that has the effect of penalising safety is seriously flawed and
must be condemned. A performance regime must have sufficient allowance
and flexibility built in to ensure that targets can be achieved
without any possibility of compromising the ability of staff to
safely carry out the maintenance and renewal work needed to ensure
the safety of the railway.