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Information exchange

Years ago, when authorities needed to put information into the public domain, it was relatively easy. One or two TV channels, the BBC light programme (I’m showing my age here!), a handful of newspapers and hey presto, most folk got the same message at the same time.

Now we have wall-to-wall 24-hour news channels, hundreds of radio stations, national, local and free newspapers, the internet, blogs and forums - then, by the time the lads down the pub have all talked about it and put there own spin on the story, it’s no wonder that confusion reigns. To prove the point, how many people rung up call centres and crashed websites looking for info on swine flu, on top of all the fodder churned out by all those different outlets?
Would he be in the four-foot if there was a half decent cess?

Things are much the same in the railway industry. Years ago, you had the Rule Book, sectional appendices and common sense. Now, by the time Network Rail, RSSB, RAIB, several TOCs, many infrastructure contractors and trainers have put their own slant on the Rule Book, is it any wonder that the COSS and signaller frequently end up at loggerheads over something that neither of them had any input into?

While signallers and COSSs try to make the best of the arrangements made for them, safety managers and planners get involved, staffing levels are cut and pressure is put on staff to work faster. Then we start to lose sight of the facts.

The COSS is responsible for setting up a safe system for the staff under his protection. He is the man entrusted by the Rule Book to this task. The signaller role is to ensure the safe movement of rail traffic. Here are two professional railwaymen going about their business so why does everyone else think that they know better?

Here are two professional railwaymen going about their business so why does everyone else think that they know better?

What they need are simplified methods of protection and not pages of useless paperwork, poor and frequently changed interpretations of the rules and interference from others seeking only to promote their own self importance.

Then of course there are the bureaucrats who change definitions and then leave it to staff to find out for themselves. Courtesy of the ‘Ellis British Railway Engineering Encyclopaedia’, RAIB used to define the cess as “The part of the track bed outside the ballast shoulder that is deliberately maintained lower than the sleeper bottom to aid drainage”. Now they have added the words “to provide a path and a position of safety. Hands up everyone who has had that briefed to them.

So now that RAIB has determined that the railway should have a cess that provides a path and a position of safety, it must be asked why it has never made a recommendation in any of its inquiries that Network Rail should provide a cess along the length of the line, otherwise there is no position of safety? One thing that cannot be questioned is that staff walking in the cess will not be walking in the four-foot and if you’re not in the four-foot, how can you get hit by a train?

We can reduce the number of deaths and injuries amongst trackworkers by ensuring the effective separation of people and rail traffic. That requires change on the ground and change in the management culture. It would also help if those with influence applied some pressure but it seems that they don’t have the sense or courage to do so.

Story added 1st October 2009

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