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Delude Retreat Indemnify Prevaricate Squander

Anticipate and react

One of Network Rail’s big bosses - a man whose CV probably includes an NVQ in clipboard handling - put his head above the parapet earlier this month. He has a fabulous track record, having overseen the biggest decrease in the increase of key performance data trajectories seen in the past half hour. You may know him - he’s the one suffering from HCCH (Horse/Cart Cart/Horse) Syndrome - a debilitating illness that was studied by Professor Hendrick von Laythemov who redefined it as Netrail Disorder. He’s clearly the right person the lead the company through this week’s reorganisation.
Inspection and testing frequencies have been reduced as a result of Project Rose.

As we all now know, NR is seeking to reduce the size of its maintenance workforce - that includes track, signalling and overhead line - by almost 15%. It claims that new technology will enable it to safely reduce the frequency of routine inspection and maintenance tasks.

The important thing to note here is the use of the future tense. When is that technology coming on line? How do we know it will work? Can Network Rail guarantee that the lengthening of inspection frequencies won’t compromise safety? How will the void created by mass redundancies be filled if the new technology fails to deliver?

As far as Network Rail is concerned, those questions have straightforward answers and the company will soon acquire evidence to prove that all will be well. This is a fascinating approach to the safe management of maintenance.

Let’s imagine you wanted to cut your winter fuels bills. Would you -

a) decommission your boiler, sell your radiators for scrap and hope that a Swedish boffin invents a free, under-floor heating system that’s powered by wishful thinking, or

b) set your central heating to clock-off half-an-hour earlier each evening and see whether you stay warm enough with your thermals on?

Not surprisingly, NR has decided upon the nuclear option - announcing a massive round of job cuts that destroys morale - what little there is left of it - as well as causing fear and frustration. Only then does it enter into consultation with the unions.

In an interview in December’s Rail News, Network Rail’s maintenance director tells readers that the company has already started consultations to cut staffing levels by over 1400 ‘heads’ (his word, not mine) and, in the New Year, the company will then begin trials of new track inspection standards.

Remaining staff are to become multi-skilled, covering massive geographical areas. Local COSSs will be provided - presumably having been found down the back of the settee - if workgroups don’t know the location they’re working in and familiarisation training is promised prior to implementation, taking staff away from productive duties for a few days.

Local COSSs will be provided - presumably having been found down the back of the settee...

Well-trained, motivated, loyal lads and lasses are to be thrown on the scrapheap in order to balance the books of a not-for-profit company; meanwhile its top brass will welcome massive bonuses into their bank accounts off the back of this ‘successful’ round of cost-cutting. It’s scandalous really. Those same bosses will, of course, not be around to repair the damage when the true cost of this exercise reveals itself in disastrous fashion. And perhaps that’s what this is really about - Network Rail making a point to government that “we can cut costs but look what happens when we do”.

Today’s bosses move from company to company, spend a couple of years upsetting the apple cart before jetting off to inflict more misjudgement on another unsuspecting business. Our industry needs knowledgeable, motivated engineers, not project-minded wannabes who see the railway as a convenient and lucrative stopping-off point on their way up the corporate ladder.

Meanwhile the workforce falls to the level of lowest common denominator, becoming the proverbial Jack of all trades. Unfortunately, the railway can’t cope with that. Every individual piece of equipment has it own characteristics; every system has its quirks. If the experienced hand is lost, their knowledge goes with them and the railway suffers, both in terms of performance and safety.

Originally, our standards were set by those with years of hands-on engineering expertise, learning the lessons taught by history and their piers. Binding those standards together was a quest for safety. Now though they are being hijacked by here-today-gone-tomorrow managers to satisfy Whitehall bean counters who see no further than the bottom line.

Safety comes at a price and it’s one that’s worth paying. An expanding network - one that’s handling an ever-increasing number of trains - demands a robust maintenance regime. Why then does Network Rail insist on play Russian roulette with it? And why does the ORR believe that ‘cheap’ makes sense for the industry?.

Story from Jungle Ron, added 27th December 2009

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