The Borders Railway was a bold scheme, providing 30 miles of new railway line connecting the Scottish Borders, Midlothian and Edinburgh, using parts of a previously closed line. Started in 2013, the project coincided with Network Rail undertaking a significant review of its own standards, during which none were updated or issued. Project Advice Notes (PANs) were published during this time to support projects, one of which contained misleading advice. It stated that, at the Platform Train Interface, the provision of ‘normal’ gauging clearance was paramount and took priority over the distance of the track from the platform and the stepping distance. The correct interpretation is that the platform position relative to the track is mandatory. Clearance is also mandatory, but this can be ‘reduced’ or ‘special reduced’ and the requirement does not conflict with the platform position. The project specification also required that maximum size freight clearance be implemented for the full length of the line. This advice meant that no direct consideration was being given to the stepping distance from the platform for users, the highest risk area for railway passengers. We were alerted to the resulting, and potentially serious, design and construction errors through our standards deviation process when issues were raised with the required authorisation of the new infrastructure.
Once we were aware of the issue, we took a range of steps to support the Borders Railway Project Team. It was late in the project life-cycle and it was not possible to rectify the construction in their timescales so considerable effort was required to enable the line to be opened safely, on time and, (some might think) most importantly, in time for the Queen’s visit!
The steps we took included:
- Working closely with the Borders Railway Project Team to help them understand the issues and the importance of meeting the RGS requirements for standard platform position
- Working closely with the National Safety Authority (ORR) to support the necessary authorisation
- Briefing sponsoring directors to highlight issues that were being created downstream in the project (as it was apparent that the requirements had been agreed at sponsor level)
- Ensuring Transport Scotland was consulted about the need for freight clearance – meaning this requirement was subsequently modified
- Helping the project team to develop an action plan to achieve compliance, within their time, cost and quality requirements, so that time-limited deviations could be granted, supported by appropriate risk mitigation
- Running a national roadshow to help raise awareness and understanding of the requirement for standard platform position contained within the standards
- Meeting regularly with Network Rail to raise awareness within the organisation and supporting its review of the relevant PAN
So, while we helped the Border Railway Project Team achieve the opening date and meet their requirements, our work also ensured a much-improved understanding across industry of the requirement for standard platform position. Subsequent work with Network Rail project teams has raised awareness within the industry of the principles to which a deviation has to conform and encouraged greater thinking to promote the balancing of risk, cost and compliance.