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Mark Carne critisises his own people saying "Macho Culture" is reason for accidents!

Network Rail boss attacks industry's safety record and 'macho' culture

Mark Carne says rail had failed to keep pace with other sectors in safety, and a more diverse workforce is critical to success


Mark Carne
Mark Carne, the Network Rail chief executive. Photograph: Network Rail/PA

The head of Network Rail has demanded a dramatic change in the “macho” culture on the railways, saying that unsafe working practices are causing “appalling tragedies” and hundreds of casualties each year.

Mark Carne, who became chief executive of Network Rail a year ago after joining from the oil industry, said rail had failed to keep pace with other sectors in safety, and a change in workforce culture – through measures including shortlisting qualified women for every job – was essential.

In an unusually frank speech to an audience of leading rail industry figures, Carne said: “While our passenger safety performance is the best in Europe, about 600 railway workers a year – employees and contractors – are injured to the extent that they cannot return to work the next day.

“If I were back in oil and gas, a comparable figure for the same amount of activity would be between 30 and 60 people – the difference is that stark. That means that over 500 of our people are getting hurt every year, well over one a day, because our work practices have not kept pace with comparable heavy engineering industries.”

Carne said pressure to get work finished quickly had led managers to “send signals that suggest we don’t care as deeply as we could about our workforce and their safety and health”.

He said tracks had been left untended and problems unreported. “We have too many tragic accidents caused by behaviours and conditions that others had seen and walked past. I spoke recently to a young man who had his leg amputated because equipment failed and crushed him. The equipment had failed previously, but nobody had reported it.”

Three workers were killed and 122 suffered major injuries in 2013-14 working on the railway infrastructure, according to Network Rail figures.

Carne said he had instigated a programme to tidy up a railway that was “frankly, sometimes a bit of a scrapheap”, including picking up tens of thousands of tonnes of old rails and sleepers.

Carne, who moved quickly to limit directors’ bonuses at Network Rail when he took over, admitted he led a “company that people love to hate”, but said he was committed to transparency. “We are determined to win the public’s trust,” he added.

The chief executive said a more diverse workforce would be critical to success. “There is now a proven correlation, across multiple sectors and geographies, between diversity and inclusion on the one hand, and innovation and high performance on the other.”

He said he would be introducing positive action to tackle the gender imbalance, with women now making up 14% of the Network Rail workforce. He said measures would include making sure any qualified woman was shortlisted for available posts, extra career development plans and mentoring to “compensate for the inherent bias that can occur in male-dominated societies”.

He added: “We still have what many would describe as a macho culture within the company.”

Carne said the organisation was taking “big steps to enhance the attractiveness of Network Rail to minority groups … Diversity and inclusion aren’t just nice-to-haves. It’s not just political correctness. They are powerful tools to help any organisation improve its performance.”

The speech was delivered on Tuesday night at the Institute of Engineers in central London. Lord Adonis, the former Labour transport minister, said the speech amounted to “a systematic hatchet job” on the culture at Network Rail, adding: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a CEO be so critical of his own organisation.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “RMT has warned repeatedly that the safety culture on Network Rail has been diluted by savage cuts to staffing and the proliferation of agencies and contractors, which has led to casualisation of safety critical work and a surge in staff on zero-hours contracts. Those warnings have come home to roost with a vengeance in these shocking figures.”

Cash said the figures were “an appalling indictment” and Carne should ensure Network Rail brought all works back in house and improved pay and conditions.

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