Letter: BR's impossible safety objectives

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The Independent Online
Sir: Two British Rail 'lookouts' spent Saturday 25 July sitting in a van at Redmire watching power lines being put up near the railway which is being scrapped on 30 September when transport of limestone down Wensleydale is switched to road ('The deadline looms for Dales' lorry reprieve', 21 September).

In fact, no trains ran all week because Redmire quarry was closed for holidays, but lookouts still had to be posted 'just in case'.

Since trains at Redmire never exceed 20mph, 'men at work' signs beside the track would have been entirely adequate. After all, this is the only protection local electricity board workers will get from the 60 lorries a day carrying limestone at 50mph to British Steel's works at Redcar.

Following the Clapham Junction collision of 1988, the BR board set itself a goal of 'zero accidents'. So much money is now being thrown at this unattainable objective that other investment projects - including new trains - are being crowded out of budgets. An internal study into the effectiveness of 250 safety projects authorised in 1991-92 revealed 50 where the cost per life saved exceeded pounds 100m. When assessing road projects, the Department of Transport values a life at pounds 660,000.

On the roads, lorries may be involved in fatal accidents every day but operating costs are predictable. By creating a track authority insulated from commercial pressures, privatisation of British Rail will land ballooning safety costs even more directly on companies that still send freight by rail.

Inevitably, many will conclude, in accordance with Sir Alistair Frame, the chairman of British Steel, that in such circumstances a switch to road is the right economic decision.

Yours faithfully,


Consultant Editor

Railway Gazette



21 September