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Tue November 28 2023

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Rail maintenance workers continue to be in danger, warns chief investigator

1 May 19 The head of the Department for Transport’s Rail Accident Investigation Branch has once again this week laid into Network Rail for its failure to keep track maintenance workers safe.

Forward facing CCTV image from a train shows of a near miss with track workers at Egmanton level crossing in Nottinghamshire, 5th October 2017
Forward facing CCTV image from a train shows of a near miss with track workers at Egmanton level crossing in Nottinghamshire, 5th October 2017

Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents says that the rail industry has proved itself unable to come up with an improvement strategy for track worker safety.

“The death of a track worker at Stoats Nest Junction on 6 November [2018] was a sad reminder of the continuing risk to people maintaining our railways,” says

In his review of the year for the Rail Accident Investigation Branch’s 2018 annual report, published this week, Mr French writes: “Prior to the accident at Stoats Nest Junction, it had been nearly five years since a track worker was struck and killed by a train.  However, in that time there have been too many near misses in which workers have had to jump for their lives at the last moment.”

He continues: “The number and type of near misses in recent years is hugely disappointing given the efforts made to address track worker safety during that time.  Every near miss, however caused, should be viewed as a failure of the system to deliver safety.  I am concerned that, despite much effort and many initiatives,  we are not seeing the hoped-for improvements in safety for track workers - in the last two years we have published three investigation reports and four safety digests covering narrowly avoided collisions between trains and track workers.  Our class investigation into the safety of track workers, published in April 2017, took data from over 70 incidents, including near misses and operational irregularities, which happened in a single year.”

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He concludes: “Although there can be no doubting the determination of the industry to address the underlying causes of near misses and accidents involving track workers, a clear improvement strategy has still to emerge.”

The annual report says that the RAIB’s concerns include: the quality of leadership on site; the way that information is presented to track workers (signs and documentation); poor standards of lookout protection on open lines; management and supervision of contingent labour; and the reluctance of those on zero hour contracts to challenge unsafe practices.

You can read more on this topic in the forthcoming May 2019 issue of The Construction Index magazine.

In the meantime, here's Simon French himself.

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