MAJOR changes to the way safety on Britain’s rail network is regulated and managed were proposed by Lord Cullen on September 20, in Part 2 of his report into the collision at Ladbroke Grove which killed 31 people on October 5 1999. All 74 recommendations were immediately accepted by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, who will introduce legislation to establish two new safety organisations.

HM Railway Inspectorate will hand over to a separate rail accident investigation body the task for which it had become best known to the public since its formation in 1840. Reporting directly to the Transport Secretary, the new Rail Accident Investigation Branch will conduct inquiries into significant accidents. According to Cullen, the ’sole objective’ of these should be ’the prevention of accidents and incidents.’ They should not ’apportion blame or liability’, and witness statements ’would not be disclosed to the police save by order of a judge.’ RAIB will also supervise the 90 formal inquiries and 150 formal investigations into less serious incidents that are undertaken each year by railway management.

Boosted by a large increase in staff, HMRI will survive as a separate directorate within the Health & Safety Executive. A new manager ’not necessarily with a railway background’ will be appointed to head up HMRI, which Cullen says must now assume full responsibility for approving all safety cases held by Railtrack and the train operators. HMRI will continue to carry out inspections and approve new works, while HSE remains the sole ’safety regulator’ with powers of enforcement and prosecution. Both are at record levels, with 51 enforcement notices issued in the year to March 31 2001 and 12 prosecutions resulting in fines totalling £1·1m. Where accidents merit prosecution, HMRI or the police will collect evidence independent of the RAIB inquiry.

The other new organisation is described by Cullen as a rail industry safety body. This already exists, in effect, as Railway Safety, formerly Railtrack’s Safety & Standards Directorate. Since January 1 2001 RS has been an ’independent’ subsidiary of Railtrack Group plc, but Cullen says RISB must be truly independent. It will be funded by a levy on the rail companies, who will have a say in how it is run. RISB will develop Group Standards, initiate safety research, produce the Group Safety Plan and manage ’system authorities’ for projects such as train protection.

Cullen says privatisation and fragmentation has hampered accident investigation, produced ’a shortage of properly trained and competent personnel’, delayed projects and blocked research ’of strategic importance to safety.’ The legislative process will give time for reflection on how effectively this divided safety management structure will paper over these cracks, and how it will mesh in with the EU’s emerging safety and interoperability directives.

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