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Take a step back

I consider myself to be a fair and encouraging man….and utterly delusional of course. So it was with an entirely open mind that I ordered the latest issue of Network Rail’s Personal Track Safety Handbook - the seventh - and eagerly anticipated its arrival. The reason for this was not acute anoraksia or the absence of a life. No, vested interest was at play. Four years ago, I drove the small but perfectly-formed committee which developed the previous issue, delivering a refreshing antidote to RSSB’s approach of blindly gluing together three stodgy Rule Book modules. It was well-received except by the resistance movement in the Treacle Tower.

One of Network Rail's elite, safety-critical proof readers gets to grips with the new PTS Handbook.

I’ve never been one of those people who lies back and basks in reflected glory. When you’ve sorted one thing out, move onto the next - that’s my general philosophy. So I had spent the years since publication compiling an ‘improvements list’ to action when production of the next version loomed.

Issue 7 was long overdue. I was asked to put its wheels in motion late in 2007 but NR’s thought police blocked the raising of a Purchase Order. Undeterred, I resolved to get it sorted - revisiting the words, producing new graphics and taking a fresh batch of photographs. When I’d finished, the draft had a cleaner look with easier navigation. Best of all, another eight pages had been consigned to the dustbin. It was also aligned with the structure of 20 new PTS video modules which I had carefully crafted earlier that year. I submitted the draft, sat back and waited for the phone to ring.

I have learned many things about Network Rail over the years. Amongst them, it is much more comfortable with ‘second-rate, ill-informed, expensive but utterly obedient’ than ‘competent, knowledgeable, cheap but challenging’, even if that means having to do something twice.

And so it came to pass.

Not much is fundamentally wrong with the new PTS Handbook; you’re hard-pushed to find many substantive differences between it and its predecessor. Most of the original pictures are still there, despite many featuring long-forgotten liveries. Most of the original words are still there, despite the opportunity to offload a great many. Most of the original weaknesses are still there, despite my extensive improvements list.

What is new are the PPE photographs, featuring a much younger model and a white hardhat; the person placing detonators has wisely donned a pair of gloves; an extra line of text has appeared - “If you are a contact lens wearer, always have a spare pair of glasses with you.” And that’s your lot.

It just feels like such a wasted opportunity - one which is a page longer than issue 6. But worse was to come. A couple of weeks after the handbook’s arrival, a page of typographical errors popped through my letterbox. Directional arrows had been transposed; the CIRAS web address was wrong; a whole paragraph of text relating to the placement of emergency protection had been duplicated, resulting in another being omitted altogether. Presumably, nobody bothered to proof-read the draft before thousands of copies were printed, or that function was fulfilled by someone with little track safety knowledge.
Presumably, nobody bothered to proof-read the draft before thousands of copies were printed...
Perfection is a rosy glow over the horizon - we can stride purposefully towards it but we’ll never get there. We should though aspire to deliver improvements with every step we take. In that respect, the authors of Issue 7 have failed to rise from their seats.

I couldn’t sign off for this month without drawing your attention to Virgin’s efforts to reduce teenage pregnancies and halt the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. It is currently being trialled at Warrington’s Bank Quay Station.

Click here for the full story.

It takes the form of a kissing ban. Really! There will be no more lingering goodbyes; no more fond embraces. They cause congestion in the taxi rank apparently. Signs have been installed to alert passengers to the new regulation but a special Kissing Zone has been created nearby for those passionate few who just can’t help themselves.

RSSB is soon to publish a Good Practice Guide to ensure compliance. Here’s the relevant extract.

4 Saying ones’ goodbyes

4.1 Use of tongues

If a distant family member, friend or colleague is to depart by train, you may only kiss them goodbye using the French methodology if:

  • you are intimately familiar with the other person, or hoping to become so
  • you have cleaned your enamel-coated chewing implements with a suitable paste within the previous two hours
  • you are competent to insert your fleshy taste organ into another oral orifice
  • a suitable method of protection has been planned, implemented and documented in a RIMINI pack
  • the other person has given the green light
  • no other party will be offended, and
  • no conflicting movements will be made.

4.2 Straying hands

If a distant family member, friend or colleague is to depart by train, you may only allow your hands to make contact with their upper body if:

  • permission has been granted by the Protection Controller
  • you are clear as to the safe limits of any movement
  • a red light is displayed
  • you move immediately to a position of safety when a warning is given
  • you ensure that no equipment crosses the line
  • the activity will not last more than 60 minutes or involve more than six people, and
  • your block instrument remains in the ‘normal’ position at all times.

But it would appear that National Express East Coast has a far more liberated approach, trying to appeal to Sun readers everywhere by providing its female train crew with skimpy, "almost see-through" tops.

Click here for the full story.

I intend to remortgage the house and buy myself a ticket. I'm sure there must be safety implications which demand close scrutiny!

Story added 1st March 2009

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