PASSENGER NUMBERS HAVE DOUBLED IN THE PAST 20 YEARS. SO, AREN’T THE DANGERS REGARDING DOO AND THE PLATFORM-TRAIN INTERFACE MORE SERIOUS THAN EVER?
The government statistics on overcrowding released last week show that many Southern Rail services are now carrying more than twice the number of passengers they were designed for.
With today’s overflowing trains and platforms one has to ask why DOO – a system originally brought in for freight and empty trains – is now part of a government policy being driven aggressively nationwide.
Is the ORR’s authority to oversee rail safety compromised by it being part of the rail industry?
The ORR (Office of Rail and Road) are aware of many facts – including overcrowding – that indicate that DOO is not the safest method of operation. So, why did they allow it to be rolled out across the Southern network, especially when the camera equipment on the 377s is of such very poor quality?
Why too, do they seem to have ignored the buried 2015 report “ON TRACK FOR 2020: THE FUTURE OF ACCESSIBLE RAIL TRAVEL” and the figures released by the British Transport Police that between May 2016 and March 2017 there were 83 reports of sexual assault on Southern Rail – all in the context of reports that show how overcrowded Southern services are at present and the predictions for worse to come in the future?
In December 2006, responsibility for Rail Safety was removed from the independent Health and Safety Inspectorate and brought “in house” under the ORR.
The decision to place responsibility for Rail Safety “in house” under the ORR was made when the Strategic Rail Authority was scrapped in December 2006.
In July 2004, Bill Callaghan, Chairman of the Health and Safety Commission had highlighted the dangers of taking the policing of Rail Safety away from the Health and Safety Executive and making it the responsibility of a regulator beholden to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Train Operating Companies.
A decade later, we are in a situation where the Secretary of State for Transport and the Train Operating Companies view DOO as a means of de-staffing the railway and weakening the unions, which in turn cuts costs and makes the industry attractive to private investors. The ORR is financed through these Train Operating Companies, and all members of its board are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport.
As predicted by the Health and Safety Commission, the ORR has seemed powerless to stand in the way of the aggressive imposition of DOO on Southern Rail. How can the ORR possibly ensure the safety of the rail network when it is not itself independent from the rail industry?
The detrimental impact of taking Rail Safety away from the independent Health and Safety Inspectorate and putting it “in house” under the ORR was highlighted in the following statement made by the Health and Safety Commission Chairman in July 2004:
Commenting on the fact that “Responsibility for safety on the railways would move from the Health and Safety Commission’s (HSC) executive arm – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) – to the Office of Rail Regulation”, HSC chairman Bill Callaghan said: “The commission is naturally disappointed with this decision. It is our firm belief safety regulation should be independent of its industry and any regulator should have teeth to be able to enforce measures where necessary.”
It is clear that the danger of allowing a “toothless” body to have responsibility for Rail Safety was recognised from the outset by the Health and Safety Commission. Is it because their 2004 warning was not heeded that we find ourselves in this position today?
IN THE ABSENCE OF AN INDEPENDENT REGULATOR PROFITS WILL ALWAYS COME BEFORE SAFETY
IF SAFETY IS TO BE PRIORITISED BEFORE PROFITS THEN THE ORR NEEDS TO BE REMOVED AS THE ENFORCING BODY AND THAT RESPONSIBILITY RETURNED TO THE HEALTH AND SAFETY EXECUTIVE