Report slates railways for being `risk averse'

Clayton Hirst
Sunday 06 February 2005 01:02
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Britain's railway bosses are obsessed with safety at the expense of performance and value for money, says a report commissioned by the Government.

The report - published just as the Hatfield trial ends its first week at the Old Bailey - argues that the string of rail disasters over the past few years has created a "pervasive and self-sustaining culture of risk-averse or over-cautious behaviour in the UK rail industry".

Prepared by the management consultancy Arthur D Little for Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport, the report is bound to cause controversy. It catalogues a series of problems with the so-called risk-averse culture.

"Decisions that in the past were made by competent, front-line staff are being taken by more senior management who lack the technical expertise," the report says. The rail industry relies on "excessive analysis instead of professional judge- ment, to protect against personal liability," it argues.

And too many decisions are made by committee to spread responsibility.

This leads to insufficient "incentives to keep the railway running", "a lack of clear leadership" and "poor relationships and communication both within and between organisations".

A spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said that the report had "informed our thinking" on the policies to reform the structure of the railways. This will lead to the abolition of the Strategic Rail Authority by the autumn. It will also see the Health and Safety Executive lose its responsibility for the railways, with the powers passing to the Office of Rail Regulation.

While it doesn't name the culprits, much of the criticism in the Arthur D Little report is thought to be aimed at Network Rail, which owns the track and rail infrastructure.

A Network Rail spokesman said: "We feel that we have got over these issues and we now provide the tools to allow people to make sound decisions."

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