Britain's mainline railway 'safest in Europe' watchdog says


Britain’s mainline railway is now regarded as the safest in Europe after harm to passengers fell by a third over the past ten years, the national rail watchdog’s annual health and safety report has highlighted.

Ian Prosser, director of railway safety, at the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), has reported this is the eighth consecutive year without any train accident-related passenger fatalities.

And harm to passengers on platforms - the single largest source of harm to individual passengers at stations, most involving slips, trips and falls – decreased 21% and by 24% when normalised in 2014-15.

‘There were no passenger train derailments for the second year - a significant achievement [and] harm to passengers has reduced by a third over the last decade when normalised by the growth in passenger numbers,’ Mr Prosser said.

However over the last year these achievements have ‘plateaued’ according to the report and Mr Prosser identified the industry’s level of management maturity has only showing ‘gradual improvements’.

‘It’s still some way from the excellence in health and safety and asset management culture that is central to high reliability organisations,’ he said.

In 2014-15:

  • actual harm to passengers increased 2%, but when normalised by the 4% increase in passenger journeys, decreased 2%
  • actual harm to workers reduced 3%, but stayed the same when normalised by the 3% fewer workforce hours worked
  • actual harm to the public, excluding suicides, increased 10%. This was driven by two additional level crossings fatalities.

Mr Prosser identified ‘three key strategic safety points’ to the ongoing safety of the network, including managing the challenges of passenger growth and change, maintaining and renewing infrastructure, and delivering improvements in occupational health and safety management.

ORR is also looking into a range of specific risk areas across the sector including poor drainage on the mainline railway, which meant action had to be taken against Network Rail in 2014-15.

Level crossings also remain a significant danger, with overall harm at level crossings having increased 22% in 2014-15, resulting in 10 fatalities, two more than 2013-14, however none involved breaches of health and safety law.

Signals passed at danger (SPAD) are also an issue, with 299 mainline incidents.

‘The industry is producing a strategy to reduce SPAD risks as the mainline moves towards automatic train control, through the implementation of the European Train Control System (ETCS). We will monitor SPAD trends closely, particularly those that are high risk,’ the report states.


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