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Nice video, shame about the song

Flattened by the column inches devoted to April’s CP4 announcement - which will see £35 billion poured into the UK’s railway system - was a sad and overlooked event. Even a Google News search finds no mention of it amongst the plethora of local papers.

At 1237 on 30th March, a trackworker was struck and injured by a train at Dalston Kingsland Junction on the North London line. At this point, the railway’s four tracks converge to become two. The man was acting as lookout for a gang carrying out lineside inspections when the passenger service hit him at around 15mph. The extent of his injuries is unknown but I’m sure we all wish him a full and speedy recovery.

RAIB’s inquiry - which I expect to be published shortly before my retirement in 2031 - is focusing on the safe system of work.

Dalston Kinglands Junction, site of the accident on 30th March.
Photo © Microsoft Virtual Earth/NAVTEQ/AND/Blom/Intermap 2009

Unfortunately, RAIB was busy producing a fluffy promotional DVD last month (click here to enjoy it) so it only had time to publish one report into a serious railway incident. Well, you have to get your priorities right, don’t you?

The film is a thoroughly entertaining watch though I was somewhat bemused by Noddy Holder’s occasional appearance. Congratulations for the script must go to that masterful double act of Jimmy Perry, Hi-De-Hi’s creator, and Alastair Campbell. Featured is a reconstruction of an accident which occurred at Balnaguard Halt on the 20th November 1959, involving the derailment of a 0-4-4 tank engine and two coaches. We’re still waiting for RAIB to conclude its ruminations.

My efforts to solicit an explanation of the Branch’s ridiculously protracted inquiry timescales continue to bear no fruit. In a recent email, Carolyn Griffiths, its Chief Inspector, claimed that the regulatory limit of 12 months between an accident/incident and publication of the relevant report is actually just an “expectation for delivery”. She believes that it is “unrealistic” to think that all of RAIB’s inquiries could be concluded within the specified timeframe.

An intruder finds one of RAIB's hard-working investigators considering the internal molecular structure of her eyelids, research which will take until September 2011. Please note that all four wall clocks stopped ticking in 1964.

Isn’t it strange that RAIB understands the word ‘unrealistic’ but not ‘expeditious’? Presumably, theirs is the Oxford Dictionary of Convenience. The average duration of RAIB’s last 21 inquiries into occurrences on Network Rail infrastructure has risen to 13.5 months (click here to admire RAIB's Parade of Paralysis). What possible justification is there for a typical investigation to demand more than a year of anyone’s time? Are they interviewing individual ballast pieces? The Branch’s performance is becoming ever more untenable.

How much do you earn? No, I didn’t ask how much you get paid - how much do you ‘earn’? It’s a meaningful word, suggesting an element of merit. Do you deserve what you get paid? Is your output worthy of it?

RSSB’s Financial Statement for 2008 would raise a few eyebrows amongst the many thousands of former grafters who are now enjoying an enforced period of navel contemplation courtesy of the UK’s manufacturing meltdown. In the year to March 2007, the railway’s guardian of theoretical safety had a wages bill of just under £11 million. This was spread liberally around a workforce of 196 dynamic, thrusting go-getters who, on average, welcomed into their bank accounts a sum of more than £56,000.

As I mentioned last month, RSSB has recently moved to new premises. I have now discovered that its new office block is perilously close to the operational railway at Angel Underground Station. No doubt, barricades have been erected to prevent the unwary from straying too close. Stress levels will be kept in check by a team of biodegradable therapists.

I was alerted to the organisation’s relocation by two mailshots - actually it was one mailshot but I was sent it twice. Better safe than sorry! In the envelope was a lovely letter from Chief Executive Len Porter who is apparently looking forward “to welcoming you to our new premises” (I’m sure he would be delighted to shake me firmly by the throat!) and a list of new telephone numbers for key personnel.

I was alerted to the organisation’s relocation by two mailshots - actually it was one mailshot but I was sent it twice. Better safe than sorry!

In the days when I was contracted to it, RSSB ‘led’ a number of national initiatives, each one of which was allocated a project manager. But the column of job titles on the contact numbers sheet didn’t feature this term; instead 26 ‘meeting organisers’ were listed for a surfeit of committees which sound utterly enthralling. How would you fancy contributing to the Biodiesel Working Group, the GB Economic Evaluation Working Group, the Aerodynamics GB Working Group, the Track Circuit Actuators Steering Group, the Yellow Book Training Group or, best of all, the Safety Risk Model Practitioners Group? I bet the local A&E is on standby when it’s sitting. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, eh?

There’s even a meeting organiser for Annual General Meetings! Their packed 2009 schedule probably reads something like this:

Monday 5th January 2009 Wednesday 16th December 2009
0930 book AGM venue 1650 arrive Heathrow
0940 arrange caterers 1930 attend Christmas bash
0950 type and print agenda
1010 post notification pack to attendees
1020 taxi to Heathrow
1250 flight to Barbados

Seriously, if a group has meetings every couple of months, what is its meeting organiser doing with their time? Couldn’t the Energy TSI Working Group’s organiser also look after the Future Fuels Technology Group? And if these 26 people are amongst only 50 RSSB employees worthy of having their new phone numbers announced to the industry, what roles do the other 146 staff members perform - Mouse Mat Orientation Strategist, Potted Plant Irrigation Controller, Carpet Weft Alignment Coordinator?

If RSSB’s role is now little more than clerical - pretending to be independent but doing only what others demand of it - is that really worth the multi-million pound budget bestowed upon the organisation every year?

I was recently sent this cartoon about meetings. ‘Says it all really.

For the past few months, I have been overwhelmed by dejection and lethargy - moping around the house, consumed by a sense that something is missing from my life. Then I suddenly realised - the postie had not delivered an RSSB Information Bulletin since late last year. I immediately fired up the computer and hurtled down the superhighway, through its online portal. No, nothing there either - the last one was dated November/December 2008.

According to the bulletin's webpage, its purpose is to “keep Railway Group members informed of RSSB’s activities. News relating to new safety initiatives, updates on research projects, Railway Group Standards and other progress is reported.”

Can we assume that RSSB has done nothing of any note over the past four months?

Story added 1st May 2009

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