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There were few surprises, nasty or pleasant, when lord Cullen unveiled his long, oh so long, awaited Part 2 Report of the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry.
As ever, the Noble Lord is notable for his prolixity (74 recommendations), odd omissions and underlying common sense. But, at the macro level, the proposed structure for managing railway safety is logical and should work well – assuming you can find people of the right calibre to give life and momentum to the boxes in the organogram.
At the centre, the future railway will have an unambiguous safety regulator. The buck will stop with the Health & Safety Executive and its executive arm, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate. This is likely to be a severe cultural.
For a start, HSE/HMRI will be responsible, really responsible, for accepting safety cases, rather than rubber stamping recommendations from Railtrack or, latterly, Railway Safety. Even after the changes last year, in which Railway Safety had to pass safety cases it accepted to HSE/HMRI for formal endorsement, the folk in Rose Court were not exactly eager to fulfil their new role.
Now that they have to validate and accept safety case on their own, and face the risk of challenges from Railtrack and other safety case eholders if they are perceived as too easy going, we can see why Lord Cullen wants Her Majesty's present Chief Railway Inspector replaced by someone of ‘outstanding managerial ability, not necessarily with a railway background'. This post will be advertised and we await the job specification, not to say the short list, with interest.
And it is not just at the top that better quality people are needed. Lord Cullen reflects the industry's concern when he says that the ‘brigading' of HMRI with the HSE failed to address the need to build up the numbers of personnel with railway experience.
Despite all Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's rodomontade about ‘stripping Railtrack of its safety responsibility', not much changes at the Black Tower of Euston. Having seen its Safety & Standards Directorate become the not for profit subsidiary Railway Safety, Railtrack now has to beef up its Safety & Assurance Directorate (SAD) to vet the safety cases of operators and others with access to the rail network. It would be less than human – and an example of competition enhancing safety – were SAD to take a delight in picking holes in safety cases HSE/HMRI were minded to accept.
Given Cullen's criticism of HMRI's performance since privatisation, the move to a separate Rail Accident Investigation Branch of the Department for Transport, Local Government & the Regions was a no brainer. Staffing the RAIB will be a different matter and Lord Cullen's concept of a two tier approach to accident investigation should be reconsidered.
He sees the RAIB handling inquiries into major incidents while the industry investigates lesser incidents itself, presumably through a variation on the current formal inquiry process. This is not to cast doubt on formal inquiries. The real concern is that major accidents are so few that the RAIB's specialist investigators could grow rusty between call outs.
We suggest that, just as the Air Accident Investigation Branch covers every incident from a lowly Cessna light plane to Concorde, so the RAIB should cover as many incidents of all sizes as they can reasonably handle. As one veteran Inspecting Officer put it, ‘they need to be tramping around the real railway to get a feel of what is going on'.
Cullen's big omission is the issue of Europe . While the Report covers the long term implications of the planned European Directive on Railway Safety he ignores the here and now of the Interoperability Directives. That for High speed Lines could enter British law in January and would then apply to the upgrading of the West Coast Main Line to 125mile/h This line will then have to be approved to European Technical Standards for Interoperability which, among other things, are not congruent with the safety case ALARP approach.
So while the basic structure appears sound, Lord Cullen leaves behind a huge amount of detail to be worked through. Let us hope that this marks the end of inquiries into railway accidents by laymen with first class minds.