Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Further memorandum by The Railway Forum (FOR 42A)



  The Railway Forum is an industry-wide body sponsored by and paid for by most of train operating companies, the rolling stock leasing companies, the Passenger Transport Executives, Network Rail, London Underground and many manufacturing and infrastructure companies, as well as other businesses connected with the railways. In all we have some 70 members. Our key role is to act as a think tank, information exchange and point of contact for those committed to and interested in the rail industry.


  1.  This memorandum is intended as supplementary to our initial submission of 4 September and focuses solely on the issues surrounding the future of safety on the railways (in light of the Committee's announcement that it will hold an additional hearing on 7 January 2004). In particular, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) recently published a discussion document entitled Safety on the railways: shaping the future[6] laying out those issues that it felt needed to be addressed in order to improve railway safety management and performance. The document gives great cause for concern, particularly as it appears to focus on second- and third-order issues rather than the key strategic safety challenges facing the railways. This appears to be largely reflective of the HSC/E's current flawed approach to railway safety. We strongly believe that for the railways to demonstrate significant progress on safety in the long term, the safety regulator must properly address the key issues outlined below.


  2.  We do not believe that the HSC has identified the key strategic issues at the heart of improving safety on the railways in the long term. There is no recognition of the dramatic changes in health and safety conditions on the railway over the past few decades and the need to set future health and safety policy in a new context. Risks are now, in many cases, at historically low levels and the techniques that applied in the past can no longer be relied upon to deliver further, effective improvement (without significant increases in cost). The current HSC approach to rail safety does little more than maintain the status quo, utilising models that cannot adequately capture this new set of circumstances. For the industry to implicitly accept this as future policy would not be in our, or the regulator's, mutual interests.


  3.  There is little evidence to indicate that the HSC/E will examine its own internal processes and procedures as part of future railway safety policy. It is clear that, whilst the industry must get to grips with its own processes to improve business effectiveness, the same is true of its regulators. There has been clear disquiet within the industry for some time regarding the HSC/E's own procedures and this is an issue that must be addressed boldly if the pace of steadily improving safety performance is to be sustained.


  4.  We cannot currently discern any acknowledgement of the HSC's role in delivering cost-effective safety improvements.[7] Given the current cost problems facing the industry we find this particularly disappointing. Safety is now an integral part of best business practice; it is not an "add-on". It is crucial that the HSC understands how it can help the industry to deliver economically sustainable and improving safety performance. Other Government agencies are now being tasked with demonstrating this and we believe that the HSC should be no different. This is not to dilute the important inspection and enforcement roles carried out by the safety regulator but to ensure that both the industry and its regulator can work together to deliver a safe and affordable railway. They are not mutually exclusive options.


  5.  As already noted, many risks on the railways are now at very low levels of probability. The largely passive HSC approach outlined in "Reducing Risks, Protecting People", based upon managing risk according to public and private concern, is problematic as a result. It is becoming very difficult for both the public and policy makers to understand and interpret the very low levels of risk we now see on the rail network. For example the recent HSC discussion document makes several references to "societal concern" over railway safety yet does not, to any satisfactory degree, quantify or analyse what it might encompass.[8] In light of this the challenge for the HSC must be to acknowledge the need for a more educational, proactive approach aimed at better informing Government and public perceptions with regard to the tolerability of risk.


  6.  Whilst the emergence of European legislation has been generally well covered by the HSC in terms of its impact on existing UK regulations etc (eg changes in the Railways (Safety Case) Regulations regime), there is little understanding of how the European approach—in particular the creation of the European Rail Agency (ERA)—will affect the overall systemic management of safety on the UK's railways. Interoperability and the implementation of Common Safety Indicators (CSIs), Targets (CSTs) and Measures (CSMs) will have a significant impact on the way safety is managed in the UK. The European dimension will become increasingly important in the short-medium term, bringing fundamental changes to standards, processes and methods of risk assessment. How, for example, will the ALARP principle operate in this environment? There must be a clear understanding of how UK and European approaches mesh. We cannot afford to have a situation where UK domestic regulation overlays and complicates European direction.


  7.  With regard to the HSC's need to incorporate wider Government objectives in its approach to regulation we are disappointed that there is no acknowledgement of the need to demonstrate how safety is now an integral part of the wider sustainable development agenda. Safety can no longer be viewed as a single, discrete policy issue; the interplay with wider sustainable development factors must be taken into account. For example improving safety on the railways has clear implications in terms of cost, accessibility, etc. The HSC must begin to demonstrate the role of safety in delivering improvements in economic growth, social inclusion and the environment.

Leigh Thompson


22 December 2003

6   See: The Railway Forum has formally responded to this consultation. Back

7   The discussion document Safety on the railway: shaping the future does not identify cost-effectiveness as part of the core challenge of improving safety (para 5, p 2) nor is it built into the key objectives (para 20, p 7-8). Back

8   Similarly, the document makes an explicit comparison of rail and bus/coach safety (presumably to highlight the supposedly poorer record of the railways) yet does not acknowledge the very different conditions that contribute to each sector's statistics. Back

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