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We have a problem

Several RAIB accident reports concluded that there is no definition of the term ‘approaching train’. This, it decided, was a huge problem so it set the industry the task of defining it. Has RAIB lost faith in Ellis’ British Railway Engineering Encyclopedia?

Will this Apollo survive?

Milton Keynes, we have a problem!

Say again Apollo Lookout.

We do have a problem.

What is your problem?

Milton Keynes, we can’t determine what an approaching train looks like.

Please hold Apollo Lookout - we are getting our top people onto this. A high profile committee of outside-the-box blue-sky-thinkers will study your problem. This may take some time, please be patient.

Since the birth of the railways, trackworkers have often confused approaching trains with passing herds of Fresians. And in 1954, two gangers were trampled to death by badgers after mistaking them for the 1618 to Moreton-in-Marsh.
Photo: NASA

Several weeks later

Hello Apollo Lookout, we have passed your problem via RAIB to RSSB who will liaise with members of the Traffic Operation and Management Standards Committee (TOMSC). They are completing a human factors appraisal and decision support matrix and it is anticipated that they will soon be able to commence a consultation process with all interested parties and stakeholders.

Please hold and be patient.

Several months later

Hello Apollo Lookout - just to update you about your problem. Several high-level meetings have taken place and it has been decided to set-up a joint sub-committee which will study your problem in depth. As the committee members all have other responsibilities and commitments, meeting dates have not yet been finalised. We will update you when we have news. Please hold.

Several more months later

Hello Apollo Lookout - just to update you about your problem. The committee has had numerous meetings with managers from all over UK, submitted draft reports, had several brainstorming sessions and workshops, rewritten the draft, called yet another conference and carried out further consultation. They had a final get-together to dot, cross and wash-up.

RSSB can now inform you of its findings.

The committee has determined that an approaching train is one that is coming towards you.

TOMSC committee members celebrate the successful conclusion to another problematic mission before heading off to their resuscitation chambers in the Bahamas.
Photo: NASA

After a visit to the magic word house, the railway’s greatest minds have come up with a five bullet point communication for all trackworkers, explaining in glorious technicolor how to work out if a train is heading your way. I now see what government ministers means when they claim that educational standards are improving. I do wish I had paid more attention at school!

This coven of bosses at RSSB - the very people who are supposedly leading improvements in railway safety with no fear of redundancy (yet!), no weekend working, no staff shortages and no bad weather conditions - has spent a small fortune formulating this definition.
This coven of bosses at RSSB...has spent a small fortune formulating this definition.

Meanwhile your average COSS and lookout man - working out there in all weathers, with the dole queue just around the corner - could have told them what an approaching train is over a cuppa at a worksite, always assuming they could find a position of safety in the cess! Sorry, ‘lineside’. They would feel ashamed if they had got that answer wrong.

We understand that the committee will not be stood down but is now to meet on a regular basis to make determinations on some of the hard-to-define problems within the industry. However we understand these will not include the problematic “How to tell the difference between stone and ash ballast” or even “When the hell will you give your staff a safe cess to walk in?”

Story added 1st June 2010

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