Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by RMT (National Union of Rail Maritime and Transport Workers) (RI 02)

  In noting the terms of reference of the Transport Sub-committee's inquiry into rail investment, my Union wishes to draw their attention to our related concern that the financial penalties for which Railtrack may be liable in the event of train delays could be having an adverse effect on both the safety of the railway and those employed to maintain it's infrastructure.

  In this respect, track workers are finding it increasingly difficult to gain totally safe access whereby the movement of trains are stopped on the line(s) concerned (green zone) in order to carry out the necessary maintenance and renewal work. The reason is that Signallers are under direction not to grant green zones where it may cause a delay to trains unless it is to repair a fault which itself is already causing delays. Instead the track workers often still have to rely on the less safe but traditional "lookout" system (red zone) which requires them to react to a warning and move to a position of safety before the train arrives.

  The penalty payments arise in the first instance from the performance regime which exists with the train operators whereby Railtrack are required to make penalty payments to them if the average delay to trains attributable to the infrastructure exceeds the agreed benchmark. In the second instance, an enforcement order issued by the Rail Regulator for the year to 31 March 2000, required Railtrack to reduce delays by 12.7 per cent or face a swingeing fine of what we now know could amount to some £10 million. This bears no comparison to the mere £1.5 million fine Imposed on Great Western Trains for an offence under the Health & Safety at Work Act following the Southall train crash.

  A method of work based upon constant interruptions caused by the passage of trains obviously affects output. Similarly, there are now some places where everyone agrees it is simply far too dangerous for staff to work under "red zone" conditions. As such, restricted access must impact upon the degree to which adequate maintenance and renewal of the infrastructure can be safely carried out. Furthermore, the increasing usage of the railways is multiplying the problem inasmuch as it causes more wear and tear on the infrastructure, but at the same time permits even less opportunity for staff to undertake the necessary maintenance and renewal work.

  The RMT believes that any regulatory system that has the effect of penalising safety is seriously flawed and must be condemned. A performance regime must have sufficient allowance and flexibility built in to ensure that targets can be achieved without any possibility of compromising the ability of staff to safely carry out the maintenance and renewal work needed to ensure the safety of the railway.

June 2000

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