Rail safety benefits from learning from history
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Rail companies can manage their risks better by heeding lessons from the past, from overseas railways and from other sectors, says rail industry body, RSSB.

Learning points from incidents on railways at home and abroad, as well as other industries, all hold potential transferable safety lessons for Network Rail, train and freight operators, infrastructure contractors, as well as the government and regulator.

This is on top of the recommendations from formal investigations into train accidents which have always provided opportunities to improve, ever since a member of Parliament was fatally injured at the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830. Incidents like this led to the first Railway Regulation Act; within 50 years, block signalling, interlocking and continuous braking on passenger trains had been made mandatory. The 20th century saw further advances, from continuous welded rails and multi-aspect signalling to the AWS and TPWS and improvements in crashworthiness.

Lives were saved in the last fatal passenger train accident at Grayrigg 10 years ago, thanks to the crashworthiness of the train involved and the laminated glass used in its windows, which prevented the ejection of passengers, and which was the culmination of significant in-depth research and learning.

According to RSSB, the unprecedented 10-years since Grayrigg has made it easier for the rail industry to maintain a methodical and targeted approach to managing risk and improving safety – and this includes new opportunities to learn from operational experience.

The latest annual report capturing this learning includes a range of case studies including the signal passed at danger by a steam charter at Wootton Bassett, the low-speed collision at Plymouth, as well as the Germanwings plane crash and Glasgow bin lorry accident, covering a wide range of competence, operational, engineering, human factors, health and wellbeing issues.

RSSB’s Operational Feedback Specialist, Greg Morse said:

10 years without passengers or rail staff succumbing to train accidents is unprecedented and a testament to our industry’s all-round commitment to safety. But we must avoid complacency, and we can only do that with continued vigilance.

Along with good data and analysis, we sometimes need to look behind the trends – especially when they’re so positive – to avoid assuming all is well by keeping a watch for things that don’t look quite right and by checking that we’re not missing weak signals of a building risk.

The ‘Learning from Operational Experience Annual Report’ focuses on learning opportunities from incidents on Britain’s railways and overseas, as well as other industries. We hope it provides a handy compendium of learning points, written in a conversational storytelling style to make for easy reading, and not just another report.

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