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What price a safe cess?

In late 2005, Network Rail finally accepted what the union had been saying for years - there was a serious problem with cesses and access points which needed sorting out. It went on to say that a specific budget of £2.5million had been allocated to start dealing with it.

Well two years on, what if anything has improved or was all that cash swallowed up by thought police, safety experts and planners? Did the paperwork come before the cess work?

Given the number of trains running around the network fitted with cameras, it seemed strange for Network Rail to tell the union that if staff reported an access route or cess in need of repair, they would allocate funds and resources for the work teams to sort it out themselves. What a strange way to admit they didn’t know what they had.

So, as we race towards the end of 2007, can NR show us what benefits have been delivered to the safety of staff working on the infrastructure? Can staff reach their place of work by walking along the trackside rather than the four-foot? Do they have a position of safety to go to when warned of an approaching train?

Can management demonstrate that the issue was put high on the agenda of safety meetings so that staff could put forward locations in most need of improvement, and be able to monitor progress? Did NR create a partnership with is employees to make a real difference to their safety, or did the £2.5million just disappear into the murky world of the safety professional?

The view from the train window would suggest very little has changed. The fat-cat contractors have made a mint cutting back vegetation but it grows back with a vengeance, leaving the cess still in a poor state. Ballast is piled high in the four-foot and on sleeper ends, spilling over into the area that should be a safe haven.
The fat-cat contractors have made a mint cutting back vegetation but it grows back with a vengance...

Providing new walkways along the West Coast - part of the ongoing upgrade - was estimated to cost £30,000 per mile. On that basis, £2.5million should have created over 80 miles of renewed cess in the first year. Does anyone know where it is? Was the second year’s budget increased? If so, we should probably have 200+ miles of reclaimed cess to explore.

Let’s think it through. If a company was to invest £2.5million making life safer for its employees, it would generally shout about it from the roof tops. NR’s not backwards at coming forwards when it comes to self-promotion - it has whole departments doing nothing else. So where’s the publicity for these 80 miles of safety improvement? Can you hear the alarm bells ringing?

How many staff have been able to stand that bit further away from the side of thundering diesel? How many staff have enjoyed the benefits of a green zone as they walked to or from their site? How many staff have witnessed the miraculous reappearance of a cess in both directions from an access gate? How many staff have been able to get equipment to their site easier?

Reams of paper don’t help. They don’t protect you from passing trains. They don’t create green zones. They don’t transport materials down the line.

What they do do is divert attention from the real issue. The railway needs its cesses back, not another overdose of bureaucracy.

Story added 1st October 2007

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