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The fog begins to clear

It’s that time of year again. No sooner has the current edition of the PTS Handbook settled into its home on the dusty shelf than a new version drops through the letter box. From a useful, well-liked publication, it has degenerated over recent years into an ugly monstrosity which rarely sees the light of day. Questionable value then, except to the printers.

Gluing together three Rule Book modules might have eased the managerial burden of maintenance and development but it did nothing to promote a better understanding of personal track safety. Confronting the reader are 159 daunting pages with no apparent structure or any semblance of user-friendliness.

But all has changed with issue 6 which goes live in December. Even the crustiest old railwayman might be persuaded to sneak a look inside. Like its sister publication for COSSs, the new PTS Handbook was developed with the assistance of a TSSG subgroup although, this time, Network Rail took the lead. The Rule Book format and its associated verbosity have been jettisoned. The strain on that creaking shelf will soon ease - almost 100 pages have been torn away and 14,000 words have gone with them.

There are bound to be some dissenting voices amongst the more-is-better brigade, but most will see it as another tentative step down the road to fog-free communications.

Cosmetically it’s very different. It kicks off with a photographic excursion around the infrastructure, then more photos and diagrams illustrate the key safety learning points. The visuals are integral to the new approach, breaking up the text and creating a lighter layout.

The substance makes sense too within the obvious limitations. It’s not perfect but then what is? Out has gone the disjointed list of rules. Instead there’s a valiant attempt to translate theory into practice - you don’t find terms like "Be prepared!" in the hallowed pages of the Rule Book. With revolution comes revelation - page 26 enlightens us that "sunglasses are allowed in bright conditions". The Safety Taliban will be on the warpath about that one! Overall the words have an engaging, rather than authoritarian, tone and so-called ‘plain English’ has evolved into normal English as used in the real world.
Out has gone the disjointed list of rules. Instead there’s a valiant attempt to translate theory into practice...

Inevitably this new product comes with a challenge but its sponsors rather than trackworkers who will have to meet it. Misplaced instructions for lookouts, handsignallers, patrolmen and the like have been stripped out - yes, this Personal Track Safety Handbook focuses on personal track safety. So Rule Book modules will need to be available to other safety practitioners who, until now, could rely on the handbook. Network Rail has produced a briefing note detailing the requirements and already issued it to sponsors.

But it’s a small price to pay. Indeed at 94p per copy (less than half the price of issue 5) it offers that rare commodity - value for money. At last, the PTS Handbook is going back to its roots - a common sense reference and revision resource which could make a real difference to the new starter. Roll on handbooks for handsignallers, PICOPs, site wardens, points operators…

Story added 1st November 2005
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