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Why do they do it? You stick with a film ‘til the bitter end, wondering who that actor is playing the second lead, only to see the credits shrink to the size of a postage stamp while the TV channel promotes ‘Celebrity Intestines Uncovered’ on the other side. You’re then bamboozled by coloured boxes and text sliding in from all directions. The upshot is that you miss everything…including the actor’s name. TV executives will no doubt insist that you’re better informed but, in truth, you’ve seen nothing.

The railway industry is going the same way. For instance, take safety information directed at passengers - or are they called customers today?

Notices are stuck up in the train’s vestibules so you can read them as you struggle through with half-a-tonne of luggage and two wriggling children. The guard is then trained to fill his mouth with cotton wool before reading them out parrot fashion as you leave the station and settle down into your seat - assuming you can find one.

These important safety announcements are lost amongst other mundane offerings including the ever-popular “don’t forget to carry your travel documents with you” which has now been played so many times it has leapfrogged Kylie in the charts. A Christmas single is sure to follow.

The next step is for TOCs to timetable longer periods between stops so that staff can pipe more inane twaddle to their captive, bored and increasingly annoyed audience. How long before trains are routinely held at red signals so that guards can finish their announcements? Perhaps permanent speed restrictions will be imposed or stations rebuilt further apart.
How long before trains are routinely held at red signals so that guards can finish their announcements?

Most of these messages seem little more than ‘get out of jail’ cards to cover train operators’ backsides. “We’re sorry for the late running of this service….there are no seat reservations in Coach D today….the trolley service will not be serving hot drinks….please read the safety instructions provided….keep isles and gangways clear….we’re pleased to announce that Wi-Fi is available in all coaches….five gold rings….next ten station stops….make sure you take all your belongings with you….mind the gap between the train and platform….and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Look around the coach - is anyone taking any notice?

And it’s no better for those working within the industry. Publications are becoming more and more mind-boggling as managers attempt to out-do one another by finding inventive ways to hide the facts while, at the same time, protecting themselves.

‘Information overload’ is every planner’s mantra, churning out piles of trivia for the poor COSS to sift through. Trouble is, he’ll fail to uncover those few vital details. And the purpose of all this nonsense is to provide bosses with a security blanket - enabling them to walk away, blame free, should things go wrong.

Two professional railwayman - the COSS and the signalman - are best placed to decide the most appropriate safety arrangements, yet they find themselves bypassed by a layer of jobsworths, many of whom have no on-track experience.

Safety professionals can spend hours arguing over one sentence - or even one word - in the Rule Book and still not arrive at a watertight answer. I know - I’ve sat through those meetings. But at midnight, out in the real world, pressure is heaped on the COSS while men and machines wait for him to set up their safe system. Something’s wrong somewhere.

But if, like me, you make time to wade through the countless reports, bulletins and guidance sheets which are pumped into cyberspace, you will eventually find something of importance.

Take one of the latest offerings from the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) entitled “Taking Safe Decisions”. It’s a three-parter of mammoth proportions. If you fight your way through to section 3.6.4 of the ‘worked examples’ (volume 3, page 13 of 16), you will discover that: “For the next 12 months, all slips, trips and falls by [train] drivers on the trackside will receive particular will be established for each occurrence whether the driver was walking on a walkway or not.”

This will make fascinating reading to the on-track worker. RSSB is clearly keen to safeguard drivers - no problem there. But we need to ask why the same concern is not given to the thousands of lads and lasses who walk along the railway at all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year, with nothing but scrap, weeds and ballast mountains beneath their feet.

So there you are. You have been informed by the corporate pool of knowledge. It’s not our fault if you drowned in the deluge.

Story added 1st August 2008

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