Interviews

14.03.14

A united front

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/Mar 2014

The RSSB has just published its Overview of Safety Performance for 2013. Colin Dennis, director of policy, research
and risk, spoke to RTM.

Safety on the railway continues to improve, with 2013 the sixth year running without any passenger or workforce fatalities in train accidents. But there are a number of issues that remain, and the industry must continue to tackle these, working together to reduce risk.

RTM talked to the RSSB’s director of policy, research and risk, Colin Dennis, about the organisation’s latest Overview of Safety Performance.

The overview showed that passenger fatalities dropped to zero in 2012, before jumping back up to a more expected level, six passenger fatalities, in 2013. So was 2012 a freak year? Or are there lessons there that can be replicated in the future?

Dennis said: “The fact that it went down to zero was quite remarkable really.”

He suggested that the one main difference between those two years had been the presence of the 2012 London Olympics.

“There is a school of thought that the effort and initiatives in and around the Olympics would have made some difference, although how you would translate the two weeks of the Olympics into the whole year being so good…

“Obviously there was a lot of management put in, which wasn’t sustained for the whole year – but you could imagine some of the feel-good factor around the country having some impact.”

Even with the fatality rate back up at average levels, he noted that it was “nothing like” the statistics seen ten years ago.

Platform-train interface

The platform edge was highlighted as a key area of risk, and Dennis said the RSSB was initiating a coordinated industry approach to this, alongside train operating companies and Network Rail.

Accidents and injuries at the platform-train interface have a big impact on the operational performance of the railway as well as safety, and the busier the railway gets, the larger this risk.

“The industry has got together to form a platform-train interface strategy group, chaired by Network Rail and facilitated by RSSB
for the industry. It’s about the industry actively managing the platform-train interface in the short, medium and long term, because there are a lot of longer-term infrastructure issues that need consideration; designing optimum ways forward for that as well as
really sitting down and thinking about, as a collective, what we can do to manage it on a short-term basis.”

Most passenger deaths are in stations, commonly at the platform edge. The new strategy group is developing a strategy to tackle this risk and is expected to report by the end of the year. Dennis said: “We’ll be able to show the way forward for the industry – it’s a very positive step in relation to recognising the location that a lot of the fatalities do occur at.”

Standardising safety

Other measures include ensuring consistent messaging for passengers across different stations and operators. Currently, different poster campaigns, rules and messages can “provide a confusing message to passengers”, while they should be aiming to help people through their journey as much as possible.

Making people aware of the dangers at a station, including running or standing across the yellow line on the platform, would also help the public to ensure their behaviour does not exacerbate the risks.

Staff training should also be standardised across the different types of train dispatch, Dennis said. “There’s a need to make sure that we do all that’s reasonably practicable to improve the situation for our staff and passengers.”

Managing level crossings collectively

In recent years there has been “a concerted effort” on level crossing safety initiatives, from closures to new technology being brought in to catch people trying to get around the barriers, either on foot or by car.

The safety overview showed that 11 members of the public died at level crossings in 2013 when they were hit by trains.

Again, consistent messaging is an important element to deter people from level crossings misuse and to ensure everyone is aware of the dangers. And working with other relevant organisations can allow these messages to reach as many people as possible – level crossing risk cannot be considered solely the responsibility of the rail industry.

Dennis said: “Sadly we still get so many occasions where people are zigzagging around half barriers – there’s only so much that
the railway can do. But we do try to work actively with the roads authorities, and to manage the problem collectively, rather than
it all being seen as a railway problem.”

Network Rail has closed more than 750 level crossings over the past four years, and still has hundreds to go. It is focusing particularly on the crossings with the highest risk, where there have been a number of near-misses and accidents.

He pointed out that the UK has a lower level of risk than other EU member states, but added: “We can’t be complacent about it. There’s a recognition, particularly by Network Rail, that more focus is required on that.”

Safety in numbers?

The huge increase in passenger numbers seems set to carry on in the coming years; great news for the economy, but a challenge when it comes to maintaining and consistently improving safety.

Dennis called it “a phenomenal increase” but said that the industry is learning to look further ahead to prepare for this growth.

“We only have a finite level of infrastructure to squeeze all these people on to, and this increase is projected forwards into Control Period 5, which we’re just coming into now.

“We’re making sure that we’re thinking about the issues in advance; busier stations, busier trains, and the ways of managing that
through the system and planning far enough in advance to cope with it. The Rail Technical Strategy sets out the longer-term vision over 30 years, but we certainly can’t just sit back and let it happen.

“We’ve got to actively manage it and that’s part of the platform-train interface strategy – that’s certainly a key driver for the actions that we need to take, to get people on and off the trains quicker, but at the same time safely.

“To make sure that we can get trains in and out when you’ve got 24 trains per hour planned for the new Thameslink service; that’s an awful lot of people in a very short space of time to move on and off the trains. It’s really important to understand the dynamics of that, and managing it is going to be key going forward.

“It’s something that the industry is well aware of and has got active research and strategies being developed on.

Key headlines from the safety report

• For the sixth year in succession, there were no passenger or workforce fatalities in train accidents.

• Excluding trespass and suicide, the total number of fatalities in 2013 was 19, compared with 11 in 2012.

• Six of the fatalities were passengers at stations, compared with none in 2012. 2012 was exceptional in that it was the first calendar year where no passenger fatalities were recorded; 2013 was more consistent with the longer-term average. Two members of the workforce were fatally injured (they were travelling in the same vehicle while returning from a worksite to their depot and were involved in a road traffic accident), the same number as in 2012. Excluding trespass and suicide, 11 members of the public were fatally injured, compared with nine in 2012.

• The number of potentially higher-risk train accidents (PHRTAs) in 2013 was 29, compared with 36 occurring in 2012.

• At 297, the number of category A signals passed at danger (SPADs) in 2013 was a 19% increase on the 250 recorded in 2012. In contrast, SPAD risk remained relatively stable, ending 2013 at 69% of the September 2006 baseline level, compared with 66% at the end of 2012.

• Fatalities arising from trespass and suicide totalled 304 in 2013, compared with 297 in 2012.

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