Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by the Track Safety Strategy Group (RI 24)


  My primary interest is in infrastructure plant and equipment, both for the permanent railway infrastructure and for use of contractors undertaking work. Some time ago I formed the opinion that The Railway and Other Transport Systems (Approval of Works Plant & Equipment) Regulations 1994 were not being fully used, and in particular that Clauses 8 and 10, referring to dispensations and cross-acceptance from Europe, were being resisted by the Industry, effectively forming additional trade barriers with Europe.

  It is true to say that despite proposals to develop the railway infrastructure in the UK, both Railtrack and HMRI leave infrastructure products at the "bottom of the heap". I attach some notes from a recent one-day conference which I Chaired, attended by around 50 people from the Industry, at which these views were confirmed. In specific cases, track safety warning systems have been waiting four years and more for acceptance. As stated by one of the speakers, there have been 37 fatal accidents to track staff in 15 years—most of which could have been prevented by European equipment, the oldest of which has been in use in Europe since 1978. Indeed, this particular item of equipment was approved in February 1998 by Railtrack, but is still awaiting HMRI approval.

Colin Wheeler,

Project Manager

Track Safety Stragey Group

July 2000



  On 28 June 2000 Colin Wheeler chaired a conference on the above subject, arranged by Commercial Seminars in collaboration with the Track Safety Strategy Group.

  With promises from Railtrack of an extra £1 billion to be spent on the infrastructure in 2001, the need for innovation and new equipment sources has not been greater since railways were first built. More work means more workers, and consequently more people at risk. Hence, the approval/acceptance of better safety warning systems is crucial.

  After keynote talks by Railtrack's Deputy Director, Safety & Standards, Aidan Nelson; and Head of Safety & Risk, Keith Watson, which exposed the potential safety consequences of not moving things through the processes of HMRI and Railtrack Line more effectively, Roger Short (Assistance Chief Inspector of Railways) explained the HMRI position with restricted resources, and their consequent need to filter and limit the number of products considered. The need for the expansion of resources was identified, and the post-January 1 2000 charging regime was noted. He stated the process should be positive—not simply the granting of approval when the technical experts couldn't think of any more objections to raise. He agreed that the Inspectorate's interpretation of the Railways and Other Transport Systems (Approvals of Works, Plant and Equipment) Regulations 1994 needed further examination. In particular, he referred to dispensations and cross-acceptance (Clauses 8 and 10).

  Peter Anderson, Railtrack Product Acceptance Manager, explained the process for gaining product acceptance from Railtrack. This would include the requirement for a sponsor from within the rail industry, to ensure that only products for which there was an identified need for use on Railtrack's infrastructure would be processed. A booklet entitled "A Concise Guide to Product Acceptance" has been published and was made available to delegates.

  Colin Brading (Head of Infrastructure, Office of the Rail Regulator) explained the Regulator's role in promoting the network and the provision of an economic framework. He explained that the 5-yearly review, setting targets for output and efficiency, would "shape the industry from April 2001". He spoke of the opportunities and challenges involved in improving performance and producing a more reliable infrastructure. He advised that the Regulator's expectation is for steadily improving outputs from the network, and that a successful product acceptance process is therefore critical to the implementation of change. He also spoke of the Regulator's powers to enforce licences and the March 1998 Competition Act. He highlighted its provisions in the prohibition of restrictive practices and the abuse of dominant market position. Investigating complaints, imposing measures and penalties, granting exemption, and giving advice on competition issues are all matters for the Regulator.

  Finally, Colin Brading suggested that approvals and acceptance processes had to be "Safe, Simple, Quicker, Fair and Clear".

  Ken Mee (Engineering Director, Balfour Beatty Rail Maintenance) suggested that rail contractors and suppliers have a duty to identify good innovative ideas. He said that safety and profitability were always the top objectives. A "can do" attitude, he suggested, was necessary to bring about method and culture changes. He agreed with Roger Short of HMRI that engineers trying to outdo each other with "clever" questions had no place in the approvals process.

  He stated that product "Safety Cases" had to become simpler without losing the focus on risk assessment, reducing risks to as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP) and technical issues. He considered the needs of people in working methods and training to be part of the process.

  Ken Mee then highlighted current confusions: HQ Railtrack Review Panels and Professional Heads of Engineering, or up to seven Zonal Safety Review Groups—each with their own engineers! Also the indeterminate involvement of HMRI and whether this simply resulted in "no objection". He spoke of the risks—the price of getting it wrong and risk to intellectual property rights. He concluded by stating that he thought, believed and recommended that the Industry must develop a simplified way of introducing new products, innovations and methods.

  Brian Mansell of Track Warning AB, Sweden, spoke of his painful and costly experience in seeking to gain UK approvals. Track Warning AB started as a small product development company but had to diversify to survive. Without financial sponsorship by two major UK rail infrastructure companies Brian Mansell said he would have given up three years ago. (After four years he is currently awaiting the acceptance of a product safety case.) His company's equipment started out seeking UK approval. Trialing has now taken place in a number of other countries where the equipment is now in use and orders are being received.

  Roy Hickman of Infra Safety Services spoke of his own experience of almost a decade of striving to gain acceptance of equipment through the approval process. He reminded the Conference of earlier remarks made in the keynote speech by Aidan Nelson, that 37 fatal accidents to track workers during the last 15 years could have been prevented if warning systems, rigid barriers, etc had been in use. He questioned why we were still all hesitating and spoke of the human emotions involved when the person killed is known to you.

  After an open question and answer session, Colin Wheeler (Chairman) summed up. He spoke of the agreement that the process needed improvement; that a changing HMRI needed adequate resources and a clear view on its role in acceptance processes; also that interpretation of the 1994 Act in respect of cross-acceptances from Europe and the exercising of dispensations were both urgent matters. Meanwhile, other countries are avoiding entry into the UK rail market place.

  Finally, the Chairman thanked HMRI, Railtrack and the Regulator for agreeing to take specific matters forward, and invited all present to contact him personally if there were further matters they would like to see progressed. He then closed the Conference, thanking Commercial Seminars for the excellent arrangements.

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