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TSIs must cover safety too

01 Jun 2002

DIRECTIVE 96/48 mandating interoperability on high speed lines in the European Union was transposed into British law on May 16. After a three-month grace period, Technical Specifications for Interoperability will apply to designated routes, even though they will not come into force until November at the earliest. In the meantime, Notified National Standards will be applied.

In the coming months, the parallel Directive 2001/16 on 'conventional' lines will become law in several countries. Around 800 TSIs will apply to all main line networks and rolling stock - except that many can't be applied as they stand. Mike North, Controller, Europe, at Railway Safety, told an Institution of Mechanical Engineers seminar in London on May 15 that 'clearly, we are not going to have interoperability the day after the regulations are in force, and probably not for 20, 30, 40 years because of the nature of infrastructure.'

North said benefits for suppliers and operators of new rolling stock included 'potentially reduced time-to-market and reduced approval costs'. He believed 'one of the key aspects' was 'to make it more difficult for regulators, up to a degree, to find problems part-way through the (approvals) process.' However, once rolling stock has been certified as compliant with TSIs and national standards by Notified Bodies, it must still be approved by safety authorities such as Britain's Health & Safety Executive. North said the TSI concept had been 'thrown into chaos' by the realisation that national standards, and 'particularly safety rules', constitute 'a barrier for trade'.

There are huge ethical and legal problems with risk-based rules that could define, for example, safety goals for ERTMS (p314) where the issue has so far been ducked. In Italy, acceptance of any level of risk is illegal, so it is theoretically a criminal offence for a train operator to specify formally wrong-side failure rates for a computer-based interlocking. This, of course, is exactly how civil aviation achieves extremely high safety levels.

North says 'trying to solve this issue through TSIs alone will fail.' They must be rewritten within a framework that would 'require member states to accept TSIs as meeting a defined EU common safety target.' Before that can happen, safety legislation (and not just for railways) will have to be changed in several countries. In Britain, mere compliance with prescriptive safety standards such as TSIs is not good enough. HSE wants continuous improvement from rail companies - whose competitors are free to kill many more people on the roads.