Search this site
Delude Retreat Indemnify Prevaricate Squander

The RMT's dossier

On 27th January, the RMT presented a dossier to MPs which it says proves that changes to inspection and maintenance regimes, already imposed by Network Rail, are beginning to compromise safety. The union believes that the 1400+ job cuts proposed by the company will have an even more significant impact.

Below are extracts from that dossier which was compiled from contributions submitted by RMT members to confidential email hotline.

Ultrasonic rail defect detection


"After viewing [Network Rail's] proposals, it states that our URFDOs (Ultrasonic Rail Flaw Detector Operators) are being cut from 14 to 4 operators and we are to lose our Supervisor. We find these proposals hard to believe due to our area size with over 700 track miles....As we have not had the full briefing, we are unable to flag up more issues."

"I am an ultrasonic tester working in Scotland. At the present time, if we come across a squat defect up to 10mm deep and up to 50mm long we have to clamp it or, if unable to clamp, we have to impose a 20mph speed restriction. We have been told by our manager that this is getting done away with and we are just to ignore them if they are of this size. What happens on lines where the testing frequency is yearly - is that defect going to be sitting there getting bigger and bigger? This has to be an issue for the HMRI or, if not, Hatfield here we come again."


"We the ultrasonics team reported a category 2c defect of 3 times squat defects in a rail, two of which require clamping. Today we saw the p-way clamping these defects. The engineers handbook clearly states if the defect is not clamped....a 20mph speed restriction should be imposed and [the rail changed] within 24 hours. This is clearly not happening as this has happened on numerous occasions. This may be down to the p-way being too busy or management being too busy driving our members about but it clearly says management has total disregard to safety of the line."

In 17 cases, there was a backlog of between four and seven weeks for GCC (gauge corner cracking) testing in Yorkshire.

"Apparently GCC severe sites have to be retested monthly with a five to seven day margin on cat 2 track or the defect becomes non-compliant, therefore severe GCC sites require a speed [restriction]. The date they should have been tested was 1st October 2009 so, as you can see, they are well out of date....They are probably dodging this one for the time being. I don’t know if they have since tested these sites but this happens on a regular basis they get behind because there is only seven staff."

Backlog of testing and maintenance

South East

"I am constantly re-reporting faults on level crossings regarding the surface of crossings - that is repair to the roadway and units in the crossings. It is mostly p-way work that does not get done due to the lack of employees not being able to cover the faults. Time and again I report faults only to go back three or six months later to find them not rectified. This work is definitely in backlog but nothing is done about it....As level crossings have been highlighted by the government as one of the high risk areas for accidents - something like 28% of all accidents - the positions of level crossing inspectors were created to deal with the problems. I can tell you that although the faults are reported, a lot do not get done."

"Ultrasonic has all changed. Come the 5th December where track patrolling has increased in detail in some aspects, the frequencies on some ELR [routes] have decreased from weekly to two weekly and your supervisor's cab rides and walkouts have been reduced. Ultrasonic is more alarming [as it] gives an insight of how a rail is reacting to the load or track conditions on a more frequent basis. Example on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line prior to 5th December: on finding a squat of certain dimensions, it would be clamped and removed within timescale - depending on severity 36/72hrs. Now it remains on track for a year. These changes are...all about reducing the man hours on track which means less manpower in accordance with the model."


"At *** depot, we are told to sign off inspections for adjustment switches/IBJs (Insulated Block Joint)/RCF (Rolling Contact Fatigue) sites as our section managers says we inspect them as we do our weekly patrols, even though previously we did separate detailed inspections on the aforementioned items."

"At *** depot, we used to carry a walkout report on our inspections which used to have many items of work to be carried out but now we no longer carry them. A few weeks ago, we were asked to carry one of our sections managers' walkout reports on all of our walks and noticed that virtually all of the jobs on the job bank had been signed off or reprioritised to a lower priority."

"In the past month, it has happened on three occasions where the inspection team at the depot have been out on the weekly patrols and highlighted poor track conditions and prioritised them to Network Rail's required standards i.e. M1. The asset manager will then increase the time required to repair these faults due to having no production staff available, because they have been sent elsewhere doing CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) work etc, and the engineer doesn't want to highlight to senior management we have M1s on the job bank. The faults we have reported then get left until a rough ride is reported by a train driver and the linespeed is reduced until staff can be found to go out and repair the track and put it back to linespeed. This is not just making us patrolmen look like we are walking by track problems, but it's also causing delays for train companies and the travelling public. We should keep our production staff on the depot area they are based doing the repairs required and not leaving these faults until they are that bad the train driver and the travelling public get frightened that they are going to derail."

"On one occasion we dragged a piece of rail 40 feet with four men! This is happening regularly. Very rarely do we see machines; this constant strain is putting the men’s health at risk, hence they may be off sick with a bad back. I know of many men, in particular on the p-way, who have been off sick medium to long-term with problems such as back, knees, ankles, many needing operations."

"I also recall another gang member saying they had to change timbers (12-13ft long) on a weekend shift with only three men. They managed to change five and were then criticised by their line manager for not changing enough."

"We should have a gang of ten, but have one person off long-term sick and another vacancy which has never been filled. I know for certain that there are vacancies in other gangs which have never been filled."


"I can confirm that, to my knowledge, we have not carried out any lineside cable testing in the *** maintenance areas for at least two years but it is probably longe. The main reason for this is that the management know that we would be opening a huge can of worms that we have neither the staff or resources to deal with it.


"Points team 1 and 2 have been told that, due to high workloads, NR/ST/TRQ/001, NR/WI/TRK/001, NR/SP/SIG/10660 should not be applied. The points teams should FPL (Facing Point Lock) them and go away. P-way have also been told to restrict their checks."


"One of the grinding team was asked to SO54 a crossing after a welding repair had been done to it by the assistant grinding manager even though he told him he didn’t have a SO54 ticket! The manager got around this by getting a guy who’s SO54 ticket had expired to fill out the form on the Friday and, come Saturday, the grinder had to just sign the completed form."


"*** has been running with two man teams for so long now that it has become the norm. This is due to Network Rail refusing to fill vacancies, some long-term sickness and not permitting overtime to be given out to reduce the problem. The knock on effect is that staff are only doing work that can be done by two staff and leaving things such as track circuit annuals, which generally need at least three staff, undone."

"Another concern is that, due to lack of funds and staff, annual lineside cable testing is not being done and hasn’t been done for at least two years. Again a real concern to the staff as this is a really dangerous situation to be in. Our management are aware of this but say that we have been given dispensation from higher up the chain not to test cables."


"We are being pressurised/told to work with less lookouts than we should e.g. having less than 10 seconds in a place of safety. This is because, on the Elipse (computer-based asset management system), lookouts are classed as non-productive hours. So less lookouts booked equals more productive hours."


"I am concerned about the data we are inputting into the Elipse system. Nobody has ever received a full briefing on how to enter data and the relevance this data has. At no stage has examples of nominal times ever been issued or indeed how to calculate non-productive times. If these inputted times have been used as a business model then they are extremely inaccurate."

Reduced patrolling frequency


A broken rail was found by a non-patroller on 22nd September 2009. It was not in a track circuited area and therefore wouldn't show up on the signaller's panel. The Up road was last routinely patrolled on 4th August 2009, as per the requirements of the new standard. The rail could have been broken for up to 7 weeks.


"I work in the track inspection team. In the recent months, the Asset Manager has asked us (the team) to sign off WAIF (Work Arising Incident Form) for work we haven’t completed - i.e. adjustment switch inspections, IBJ inspections - and also sign off to say we have slidechair oiled the junctions... Also, we are putting in jobs that in the Network Rail track inspection standards say should be M1. When we do this, the Asset Manager drops them to a M3. We put in vegetation clearance jobs that are M1 due to safety reasons - i.e. no sighting distance or no position of safety - and these jobs just get lost in the system and forgot about due to, in the manager’s words, "budget restrictions"."


"Managers are always trying to get staff to sign off work on the backlog. Few have done some but I know most won’t do it now. As for Elipse, the system is poor. [It] often dishes out work that was done recently - [that's probably] why there is such a backlog. [We] end up going to same places all the time and some places hardly ever!!"


"The track patrols have been reduced to once a month. Much of our track is jointed 60ft lengths so you always have the threat of broken fishplates not being found for a long period of time. The track concerned is classed as category 5, maximum speed 60mph. It is also used by BNFL Sellafield."


Rolling contact fatigue (RCF) is cracking on a rail caused by stresses from wheels passing over it. There are several types of RCF, the most notable being Gauge Corner Cracking (GCC) - this occurs on the running (gauge) corner of a rail. Defects that are not visible to the naked eye - i.e. those within the rail - can be detected using ultrasonic equipment.

Ellipse is a computer-based asset management system used by Network Rail to record and prioritise maintenance work, identifying what needs to be done and by when.

Source: RMT

Back to Death by a Thousand Cuts home page
Page Top

Front Page | Safety Valve | Jungle Ron | Newshound | Red Tape | On The Line
Four by Three | Forgotten Relics of an Enterprising Age | God's Own County | Image Library

© Four by Three 2014