Commentary on Consultation Proposals
1. Safety Verification.
The proposed disassociation of the HM Railway Inspectorate from rail vehicle and infrastructure approvals is not supported.
There is a serious lack of technical skills emerging within the UK rail sector and for government to discard its in-house source of expertise in this field can only confirm that government has either no interest in rail or cannot read the runes on what is happening within the various branches of railway engineering. The position for light rail in the UK is even more acute; the unique method of development and construction of light rail lines in the UK has meant that each project has had its own design and construction team which has had to develop its own expertise which is not retained in any corporate UK pool thereafter. The only continuity of expertise between light rail projects has been the HM Railway Inspectorate. To remove this last element of continuity can only worsen what is already the worst record in the civilised world in terms of cost and duration of project for the construction of new light rail projects.
No comfort is to be had from the proposed alternative of using the private sector for approvals work. Assuming that there are sufficient standards of adequate clarity available for reference, the very nature of this type of work involves risk and the private sector will be paying enhanced premiums for professional indemnity cover which must be passed on to the client. There is thus a real probability of increased costs for this category of work. It is suggested that responsibility for the HM Railway Inspectorate be transferred to the Department for Transport where the equivalent inspectorate for road vehicles has operated for some time without generating angst.
2. Application to the Interoperable Railway.
While there is clearly a difference in the scale of risk between operating a tramway/light rail/metro system (a non-inter-operable railway) and a main line (inter-operable railway), no categorisation provision has been made for vehicles for the shared running concept in which light rail vehicles are equipped to operate over heavy rail lines. There are already two such operations in the UK (London underground and Tyne & Wear Metro) and others have been seriously considered at various points in time.
3. Managing Risks from Fatigue.
The proposals for the control and management of staff vulnerable to fatigue are welcomed as the basis of good management practice although it is noted that the Approved Code of Practice has little to say on the expectation that staff in safety critical roles will present themselves in a fresh condition at the start of their turn of duty. Again, it appears that these proposals are confined to the rail industry, giving alternative modes of transport a freer hand to compete both on cost and in the flexibility of service to be offered to the customer. Some surprise is registered that the example of the serious incident caused by fatigue which is cited in the consultation document (para 219) is the Great Heck derailment; the fatigued individual was engaged in the motor trade and would not have been the subject of any monitoring by railway standards.
In contrast to earlier, and successful, endeavours to control impairment through the inappropriate consumption of drink or drugs during or prior to taking duty, the effect of fatigue on staff does not seem to be associated with an easy measure of the level of incapacity. In contrast to the effect of drink or drugs, an individual's susceptibility to fatigue is governed by their own metabolism and raises the prospect of two people conducting exactly the same tasks over the same period but producing two quite different conditions. For fatigue monitoring to have the same credibility as drink/drugs monitoring will demand a much better understanding of the signs, symptoms and effects of fatigue than has been presented thus far.
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