Britain’s railways now safest in Europe, but regulator highlights priorities for improvement

21 July 2015

The Office of Rail and Road's (ORR) annual safety report published today, welcomes the rail industry's strong track record on improving safety and highlights the need for it to meet the challenges of growth and change. ORR is supporting the rail industry to take a more proactive approach to managing safety, predicting and preventing problems before they pose a safety risk.

ORR's latest health and safety report combines the findings of its inspectors, who spend the majority of their time out on the rail network,  a detailed analysis of statistical trends and industry capability. The report highlights that the trend in harm to passengers is down by a third in the past ten years and Britain's railways are now regarded as the safest in Europe.

Following a decade of sustained focus on safety management and improvement, 2014 was the eighth consecutive year without any train accident-related passenger fatalities. It was also the second consecutive year with no passenger train derailments. The rail industry, informed and supported by ORR, has successfully collaborated to reduce the risk of passengers coming to harm when getting on or off a train. However, despite these successes, the latest safety data and evidence from ORR's inspections show that there is still room for improvement in terms of working more proactively. The industry needs to predict and prevent problems, focus on worker health and integrate safety by design.

ORR's director of railway safety, Ian Prosser, said:

Great Britain's railways have a strong track record on improving safety, and after a decade of investment and growth, are now statistically the safest in Europe. While this improvement is to be commended, statistics only tell part of the story, the industry cannot become complacent. ORR's inspectors have identified that there is still room for improvement.
ORR's evidence highlights the challenges facing the rail industry, in particular, the need to manage growth safely. Our safety inspectors report a mixed picture, with improvements at level crossings, on platform safety and asset management. However, inspectors are also seeing  scope for improvement in safety risk assessments and worker health and safety.
The regulator is working with the rail industry to help it take a more proactive approach, recognising and managing safety issues before passengers or rail workers come to harm.

In order to improve its health and safety management, the regulator wants to see the rail industry:

  • Be more proactive, predicting and preventing problems. ORR's independent safety assessments have highlighted inconsistencies in safety management across the rail industry. ORR has found evidence of excellence and best practice in places, with improvements in safety at level crossings, and the industry collaborating to reduce harm to passengers when getting on-or-off the train. However, ORR inspectors have also had to step in where serious issues have been found, such as insufficient safety risk assessment, lack of planning for maintenance activities, poor management of electrical working, lifting operations and working at height. Network Rail's slow start undertaking maintenance and renewals work against its plans, if not prioritised and managed carefully, has the potential to increase infrastructure safety risks. ORR has challenged Network Rail to identify and take steps to address this and will monitor and take enforcement as necessary.
  • Integrate safety by design. The industry must take advantage of opportunities provided by its current multi-billion pound investment programme, to 'design out' or reduce safety risks when renewing or building new infrastructure, rolling stock and equipment.
  • Ensure worker health is considered as important as worker safety. ORR's report and analysis shows that there has been a significant improvement in the rail industry's management of worker health, however there is still more to do. ORR is pushing the rail industry to improve its management of worker health risks, to make better use of data to drive change and take action on key health risks, such as hand arm vibration, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health and exposure to asbestos, silica and diesel fumes.

Keeping Britain's railways safe infographic

Keeping Britain's railways safe 

Notes to Editors

  1. The Office of Rail and Road is the independent economic and safety rail regulator and the independent strategic roads monitor for England.
  2. Follow the Office of Rail and Road on Twitter @railregulation for latest news data and announcements on the rail industry and @highwaysmonitor to keep updated on ORR's strategic road monitoring work.