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The silly season

Yes, it’s that time of year again. As politicians pack their croquet sets away for the summer, tabloid editors trawl the dustbin in search of tasty scraps to offer their readers. So I’m now intimately familiar with the gargantuan, gravity-defying frontage of Lea - Big Brother’s silicon-enhanced single mum - and a survey which discovered that British couples cause £350million damage every year during enthusiastic sex! There’s one for the HSE.

Refuge from this tidal wave of drivel can generally be found amongst the no-nonsense pages of RMT News - the rail union’s monthly organ - so I was rather bemused by a recent work of fiction on proposed changes to T12 and T2, currently exposed to the dazzling light of consultation. Entitled ‘Performance Above Track Safety?’, it was a grand exercise in table-thumping without any obvious grip on reality.

Developed by the Rules Simplification Subgroup, the T2 proposals are wide-ranging but largely cosmetic. With surgical precision, archaic and forgotten instructions have been gently teased from its pages.

Out on the track, practitioners shouldn’t actually notice much difference. It’s in the training room where this decluttering would really reap rewards. The draft module is half the size of the existing one, making the whole thing more logical and easy to understand. Quite why RSSB’s three year revamp of the Rule Book failed to deliver such clarity is a legitimate question, but we’ll leave it for another time.

More significantly, changes to T12 - if accepted - would open it up to any activity which doesn’t affect the safety of trains, irrespective of duration or the size of group involved. Union conspiracy theorists believe existing restrictions have been torn away “in order to improve productivity”, resulting in “minimal safeguards for workers”. They claim “employers are happy to propose a simplified form of protection where only the lives of workers are at risk”.

These assertions are utter claptrap. Leading lights on the subgroup have years of practical experience ‘on the tools’ and safety, not performance, drove deliberations. Making T12 more accessible should boost safety for some ‘lesser’ activities, allowing more of them to take place on blocked lines. Fears of a backward migration from T2 simply don’t stand up to analysis.
Leading lights on the subgroup have years of practical experience ‘on the tools’ and safety, not performance, drove deliberations.

No safe system comes with a guarantee. Trains have been errantly signalled into T12s - a fact which the union points out with relish. But it studiously neglects to tell its members that T2 irregularities outnumber T12 by around 10 to 1. Overall, T12 has been an immensely successful procedure, particularly for patrolling which is logistically difficult under T2.

The union’s position is puzzling. Its constituents work in a high risk environment and sometimes fall foul of the rat’s nest of instructions which are supposed to keep them safe. Yet the RMT seems opposed to simplification. It condemned introduction of the COSS Handbook - which most regard as a step forward - and is already marshalling its forces against better rules.

Perhaps the leadership has spent too much time in the sun. Let’s hope for a more informed debate - with the proposals judged on their merits - when the silly season draws to a close.

Story added 1st December 2007
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