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'Systemic failures' nationwide?

Britain's biggest rail union has demanded urgent action against Network Rail to halt what it calls "the slide of safety standards" as an Improvement Notice served on the company highlights "systemic" failings in its safety regime for on-track work.

The ORR's recent enforcement action relates to deficiencies in the planning of patrols over some structures in South Wales. This is Queen Street in Cardiff.
Photo: Scott Kuperus

The RMT - which is currently balloting 12,000 NR staff over changes to the maintenance regime and associated job cuts - renewed its call for an immediate halt to plans for more than 1,400 redundances, urging the ORR to take action against Network Rail management at the highest level.

The Improvement Notice, issued by Railways Inspector Liesel von Metz on 23rd February, concerns lines between Cardiff Central and the South Wales valleys, fleshing out a Prohibition Notice served earlier in the month. It raises the prospect that "similar failings may be present in other Maintenance Delivery Units across all routes".

...similar failings may be present in other Maintenance Delivery Units across all routes.

The notices relate to planning failures and inadequacies in the allocation of lookouts to ensure safe track patrols. According to the inspector, these amount to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act and railway safety regulations.

“Network Rail bosses are presiding over a cost-driven dismantling of railway safety culture and it is time that they were stopped,” said RMT general secretary Bob Crow. "It is scandalous that senior executives are being paid telephone-number bonuses for overseeing cuts that are leaving safety systems in tatters and putting our members and the public in danger."

"We know that maintenance teams are already overstretched and under-resourced, that the inspection regime was slated by the inquiry into the Grayrigg crash, and yet they want to sack 1,500 track workers and water-down safety systems. When the Inspectorate is finding such fundamental faults, it is time to call Network Rail’s management to account, and if there are breaches of the law they should be in court facing charges."

"We have evidence of cuts in essential inspections and maintenance works the length and breadth of the country that mirror the situation in south Wales."

He continued, "When something goes wrong, it is our members who are in the danger zone and we cannot wait for another tragedy like Tebay - in which four of our members were killed - before something is done."

Story added 28th February 2010

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