Rail safety move "disastrous" and confusing


Rail safety move "disastrous" and confusing

Moving responsibility for safe rail travel from the Health and Safety Executive to the Office of Rail Regulation will compromise safety, the union representing HSE inspectors has warned.

On behalf of staff in HM Railways Inspectorate (HMRI), Paul Noon, Prospect general secretary, slammed today’s decision saying: "If safety regulation becomes part of the body that makes decisions about funding, or economic regulation, there is a real risk safety will be compromised."

Highlighting how today’s (Thursday) announcement flies in the face of recommendations made following the Ladbroke Grove train crash, Noon said: "Lord Cullen opposed such a change and the former rail regulator, Tom Winsor, has also publicly stated that he believes such a move would be "disastrous."

"The safety regulator should be visibly independent from the rail industry and the economic regulator, particularly because of the large amount of public money involved. Research shows that HSE remains the most trusted by the public of all the regulators."

The union has warned that in the short term, safety improvements currently in hand will be lost if a more complex and fragmented regulatory structure is created. In the long term, rail safety will be adversely affected, as the new safety regulator becomes isolated from the national source of expertise in safety regulation within the HSE.

"Removing the inspection and policy functions from HSE will not result in any cost savings. Additional start-up and on-going costs will have to be carried in the new organisation," said Noon. "This does not sit well with the government’s policies on reducing back office costs and appears to run counter to the government’s desire in the spending review to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of regulatory bodies."

Steve Kay, Prospect Branch Chair at HSE, said: "The transfer of HMRI out of HSE is an empty political gesture to pander to those in the rail industry who have been lobbying for a softer regulatory regime. We hope for the sake of railway workers and the travelling public that safety will not be compromised and that improvements in safety will continue to be made when the risk demands it."

Inspectors have also criticised today’s announcement for not addressing numerous questions over how rail safety will be managed. Areas of confusion include issues of demarcation between the new regulator’s duties and continuing HSE responsibilities. For example, in the case of airports and docks, it is unclear whether HSE’s responsibilities will stop at the ticket barrier or the platform.

Similarly, will HMRI continue to regulate beyond the mainline railway - the extent of the Office of Rail Regulation’s current responsibilities - such as the London Underground, tramways and heritage railways.

Noon said Prospect would fight the proposals in the Commons when primary legislation is introduced.