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The ILT Scotland Annual Rail Event: "Risk and Safety" by Mike Lunan, convenor of the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland - Edinburgh meeting of 28 October 2003

Mike Lunan, convenor of the Rail Passengers Committee (Scotland) d

Mike Lunan, convenor of the Rail Passengers Committee (Scotland)

© John G. Fender 2011

The 3rd ILT Scotland Annual Rail Event was held in Edinburgh on 28 October 2003 and was addressed by Mike Lunan, convenor of the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland. Mike is a self-employed Actuary and independent Financial Adviser living on Arran.

He began by looking at the various types of risk that are relevant to the transport industry, with particular reference to the rail industry. There is risk from political and other institutions in that there is a cautions approach taken to setting targets that are too low for delivery of an effective transport system.

As an example, the UK is still talking about high speed railways, whereas the Japanese first operated such a railway in 1964 and the French TGV system has been operating successfully for some years. The Italians are currently building high speed lines across the country.

There is also the risk of raising public expectations to too high a level, especially as it can take several years to deliver what is promised. People expect immediacy. If the provision of new rolling stock is announced, people expect to see it within a very short time, not realising that it can take a considerable time to design, build and commission it. Then there is financial risk, where the taxpayer is expected to make significant contributions but similar contributions are not forthcoming from the private sector. It has been said that the railways in this country are "bleeding to death" and large sums of money are being cut from budgets.

Safety is of paramount consideration in any transport business and Mike Lunan looked in some depth at safety on the railways, with a detailed look at the risk factors of a number of different types of incident. The aim is to reduce risk to as close as possible to zero, but there is a point when the cost of achieving this becomes disproportionately high, particularly if the risk factor is very small already. An example of this is expenditure on cold research. Colds kill relatively few people, so surely it would be better to spend money on research into illnesses that kill many more people. Overcrowding on trains is an issue that has had a lot of debate recently and the RPC has been involved in research into the problems of overcrowding. Mike pointed out that while overcrowding may not be seen as a safety issue in some quarters, it is still a health issue.

There are a number of areas where there is risk to people on the railways, for example, boarding and alighting from trains or where they lean out of open windows. One area of risk is the number of uncontrolled farm crossings on railways and sooner or later there will be a rail crash due to a train hitting a farm vehicle or person on one of these crossings. Looking at the various statistics can be misleading and care needs to be taken when considering such figures with relation to the railways. As an example, statistics show that some 68% of recorded accidents occur in stations and include instances where people trip and fall, an occurrence that is recorded as an accident whereas if a person falls elsewhere the incident is not recorded.

The ILT Scottish Region would like to thank Jamie Stone, Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness and Sutherland who sponsored the meeting, the speaker for his most illuminating address and John Yellowlees for chairing the evening.

Report by John Fender.


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