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That was the year that was

It’s that time of year again. The annual awards bashes are coming thick and fast, so let’s take our own look back over the past 12 months to see what, if any, progress has been made with the stories we’ve covered. Will it be bouquets or brickbats?

In March we discovered how on-track safety had moved up the industry’s agenda, with the yearly trackworker death toll cut from hundreds in the early 20th century to single figures now. But I lamented the reduction in both yellow paint on trains and HV clothing on staff. Unfortunately still more corporate colours are creeping onto the front of sparkling new units with yellow only really visible around the cab window. This is only helpful to staff hovering ten feet above the track and I can’t recall many people adopting that position! Recent industry safety videos still feature examples of very poor HV protection.
This is only helpful to staff hovering ten feet above the track and I can't recall many people adopting that position!

Perhaps designers could incorporate high-visibility yellow (that lurid day-glo colour you see at roadwork sites) into front-end designs? Companies could offer a prize for the best combination of company colour schemes and full-frontal yellow. Contrary to appearances, Dulux tells us there is no national shortage of yellow paint.

April brought the start of one of the shoddiest events I have come across in my time on the railway. More on this as we progress.

May was ‘make your mind up time’. We learnt that the industry was setting up a department to help managers with decision making. The COSS meanwhile was getting on unaided as he made split-second, life-dependent decisions every working day and night. And he still is.

Life in the fast lane was featured in June - the pavement that is. After being cosseted on the railway with training and protection, it came as a shock to find that I was on my own in retirement when walking on the pavement. Well there’s absolutely no improvement at all to report on this one. The world’s first town centre roller-skating, skate-boarding, cycle-wheelie park is being built near us, under the guise of a ‘pedestrian heartland’. But it still has buses, taxis and delivery lorries in it. Looks like PPS (Personal Pavement Safety) courses will soon be available at the town hall and lollypop ladies may have to be COSS certified.

Shoddy ergonomics (the relationship between people and their working environment) caught our attention in April, June and August, giving us the perfect opportunity to look at the dreaded E.coli which has been spilling out onto staff, passengers and anyone living near the ECML for well over a year. With all the money spent on conferences and GNER’s promise to open a new treatment plant at Heaton (Newcastle) in October, we all looked forward to improvements. But, as the weather cooled down, the press lost interest and some of the staff have been shunted onto nights.

We didn’t get an invitation to the grand opening of the tank-emptying facility but we have heard that it’s been commissioned. Unfortunately the problem persists - further monitoring by Network Rail indicates that a large number of Class 91 sets are still spraying lavatory waste onto anyone trackside. Apparently Mallards maintained at Bounds Green in north London are now thought to be the source of the contamination. Surely it is not beyond the wit of man to sort this out. How difficult can it be to empty a tank? Perhaps the underlying issue here is money and an unwillingness to provide sufficient resources.

Either way, ergonomically speaking, the lads will have to wait for their working environment to improve. It’s not conferences that are required - it’s a swift kick up the ergonomics. You can be fined for spitting but it seems that Mallard can spread its poison with impunity!

Our thoughts turned to VISTA (Visual Indication of Scrap Total Amounts) in October. We understand that felled trees and mounds of bark chippings are now included in running totals. A decision on redundant ballast from relaying projects is still outstanding. It’s believed that discussions centre on whether the stone should be above rail level or not. Discarded shopping trolleys will not be eligible as they can be wheeled away.

Last month we opened the lid on the burgeoning safety department. We can now report yet another addition to the payroll - Hugh Jeegow.

Hugh Jeegow undergoes his company medical

Hugh is 47, comes from Little Simpleton and is late for everything. He will be a great asset to the directorate as he is bilingual, having studied both English and Jibberish to degree standard. As a redundant Zeppelin designer, Hugh travelled the world and put his skills to use in many different posts including a lighthouse keeper in the Sahara and two seasons as a Jamaican ski lift operator. On his return to the UK, he took up a position as a tripe boiler and part-time black line painter at zebra crossings.

Mr Jeegow has a deep knowledge of railways as he sometimes stands next to a man in the bus queue with an RMT badge and high-visibility vest in a carrier bag. Hugh will work in the “what if” department after the sudden departure of Helen Back who has left after two years to become a QVC presenter.

His interests include watching the TV with the sound off and playing tiddlywinks. He was county team captain but was disqualified when it was discovered that he was tiddling when he should have been winking. At weekends he trains with the Isle of Dogs mountain rescue team and when asked at interview if he had any ambitions, said “he would give his right arm to be ambidextrous”. Hugh used to dream in Technicolor but this was found to be a pigment of his imagination.

No doubt more appointments will be made over the coming months. We’ll try to keep you updated. Please let us know if you hear of any new arrivals.

So as we look forward to 2007, our message is “must do better.”

Story added 1st December 2006

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