ORR warns that ROC risks ‘not yet adequately assessed’ by Network Rail
The chief inspector of railways, Ian Prosser, has told the Transport Select Committee that Network Rail has not yet assessed all of the risks arising from its move to rail operating centres (ROC).
The infrastructure operator is currently transitioning to ROCs as part of its long-term strategy to replace antiquated signal boxes and streamline the signalling workforce.
Prosser told the committee that while a “great deal” of work has been done, there is more to be done, particularly to assuage concerns that the rail network may now have a “single point of failure”.
“While ORR welcomes the substantial measures being planned to introduce redundancy and flexibility into ROC operation, we consider Network Rail has still to demonstrate that it has adequately assessed all of the risks arising from moving to ROCs or has yet given consistent effect to suitable and sufficient controls and mitigations of those risks,” Prosser wrote to the committee as part of its ongoing inquiry on rail safety.
“While the process of moving fully to ROCs will take place over a number of years and the key risks will only be realised gradually over time, we look forward to seeing evidence of their being addressed in 2017.”
Prosser told the committee that the risks of moving to fewer ROCs included a potential impact on signaller workload as a result of having fewer signallers controlling larger areas, particularly during “perturbation”.
He also said that there is the potential for any failure or perturbation to impact “on a greater area than currently”, casting doubt on how train movement will be safely restored, or even a “single point of failure”.
“We are alive to concerns about the potential consequence of a single point of failure,” Prosser said, but assured the committee that there has been “progress” in this area.
Network Rail is looking to alleviate this by putting certain ‘critical national platforms’ like power management and IT in separate ‘data centres’ away from ROCs, providing sufficient connectivity between them to allow one to pick up the other’s workload if a failure occurs.
The infrastructure owners is also considering six ‘workplace recovery sites’ to provide alternative operating locations should a ROC experience significant disruption such as a natural disaster, Prosser said.
The chief inspector of railways warned that the ORR has had to intervene on a few occasions since the migration to ROCs such as when Network Rail made an ‘inadequate’ assessment of the workload impact of migrating to its York ROC in 2014, leaving some maintenance activities to not be carried out.
The regulator has also intervened after trade union safety representatives raised concerns about ergonomic aspects of the ROCs such as noise and lighting levels, although Prosser said that there are now more consistent arrangements across the network.
Network Rail began carrying out a full review of what requirements ROCs would need in 2016, including risk assessments, although the ORR has not yet seen the final outcome of these. The ORR expects to see Network Rail’s revised standard early this year.
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