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ORR calls for an even safer railway

Latest safety data shows Britain’s railways remain among the safest in Europe, but the rail regulator has warned the rail industry against complacency and called for improvements in track worker safety and the management of its infrastructure, such as bridges and tunnels.

The regulator’s annual safety report (PDF PDF 1,181 Kb) assesses safety data and highlights analysis from ‘on the ground’ safety inspections to provide an update on the current state of health and safety on Britain’s railways. The report shows Britain’s railways are performing better than all other European railways in managing passenger and level crossing rail safety. This is a significant achievement on such a busy network, with record numbers of passengers now choosing to travel by rail.

However, ORR’s analysis also highlights that further improvements can be made, especially to protect the safety of track workers, those working on rail construction sites and passengers at stations or on platforms.  The rail industry must also develop better plans to manage worker fatigue and occupational health. Evidence shows Network Rail needs to gain better understanding of the condition of its bridges, tunnels and other assets to help the planning of maintenance and renewals work. This will improve their resilience and lower the risk posed by their failure.

ORR's Director of Railway Safety, Ian Prosser, said:

“Latest safety statistics show Britain’s rail industry ranks among the safest in Europe, and best at managing passenger and level crossing rail safety. But there can be no room for complacency. ORR’s analysis shows there is considerable room for improvement in specific areas, such as planned track maintenance, management of civil structures and the safety of track workers. It is now essential the rail industry works as one to deliver an even safer railway.
“To maintain improvements the regulator has recently approved increased funding for the next five years to improve safety-critical areas of Britain’s railways, with additional money to improve the condition of structures such as bridges or tunnels, as well as to upgrade and close level crossings.”

This year’s report highlights a number of successes, including:

  • No passenger fatalities have been caused by train accidents for the sixth year running.
  • The successful delivery of a safe 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as a result of industry co-ordination, during which a record-breaking number of passengers were carried.
  • Network Rail is on-target to meet its target of a 25% reduction in level crossing risk in the five years to 2014.
  • A 10% reduction in the risks at platforms associated with passengers getting on and off trains.

The report also highlights some areas of concern, on which the regulator is pressing for improvements:

  • There were four tragic passenger fatalities at stations. While none of these fatalities were industry-caused, ORR will press the industry to review its approach to station safety.
  • There was an 8% worsening in track worker safety, primarily due to slips, trips and falls.
  • Since December 2011, poor weather has exposed a 34% increase in the risk of a passenger train accident caused by structural failures.
  • Network Rail must develop a more co-ordinated approach to occupational health management. This includes the company’s arrangements for the management of worker fatigue, especially those associated with driving at work.
  • On the basis of fatality risk per traveller km, rail travel is:
    • More than 1,600 times safer than travelling by motorcycle.
    • More than 500 times safer than cycling or walking.
    • Around 30 times safer than using a car.

EU fatalities per billion train km 

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