Operators face tough demands on safety

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PRIVATE RAIL operators will face an onerous set of safety requirements before they are allowed to run trains, as the Government has accepted all 38 recommendations from a Health and Safety Commission report on the railways after privatisation, writes Christian Wolmar.

The requirements could cause further delays to the privatisation process since each new operator will be required to produce a 'railway safety case', setting out risk assessment, safety management, maintenance and operational arrangements.

This would have to be validated by an outside body prior to the operator being allowed on the track and the validation procedure would, in turn, be scrutinised by the Health and Safety Executive.

The report, published yesterday is wary about the effects of privatisation, warning that unless measures are taken to ensure that new operators are properly equipped and organised, there will be 'increased risk on the railway system and the likelihood of an increase in the numbers, and possibly also the severity, of accidents'.

The commission is also worried that the various bodies to be created under privatisation and the private operators will not co-operate willingly in the investigation of accidents, partly because of the fears of incurring liability.

It recommends that there should be a legal requirement for railway undertakings to collaborate, with a risk of being fined if they do not do so.

The commission also wants to ensure that stations, which may be privatised under the Government's plans, have clearly defined management arrangements to ensure that there is a proper chain of command 'for safe operation and for dealing with foreseeable emergencies'.