A lawyer learns about track safety

25 January 2019

By Chloe Barton, ORR Legal Adviser.

Chloe Barton, ORR Legal AdviserSince switching from general crime and healthcare regulation to work for ORR a year ago I have learnt more about trains and the railway than I ever imagined possible. Nonetheless, when an Inspector comes to discuss a new case I am often bamboozled by the jargon that forms part of their daily lexicon.

So after signing up for a Personal Track Safety (PTS) course to help me know my hook switch from my catenary wire, I found myself preparing for a site visit at a group of portakabins just outside Clapham Junction on two cold January mornings - with my pristine PPE clearly marking me out as a novice.

Lessons learned

The course is an important part of ensuring safety on the railway, so it was cheering to see that some of the lessons taught by ORR prosecutions have filtered down into the training. The Saxilby fatality was referred to in an e-learning video as an example of what can result from safety failings; whilst a location cabinet was pointed out to us when we were out on track with an explanation of the new safety rules that arose out of ORR’s prosecution of Network Rail when it was discovered that a large number of those cabinets were not earthed and posed a risk to anyone who may come into contact with one.

There was the odd grumble from some of my fellow trainees about the perceived burden of health and safety legislation, particularly the amount of paperwork that some felt actually stops them from completing their work efficiently. There is clearly an important balance to strike between overloading a workforce with onerous forms to complete whilst accepting that the nature of risk assessment and ensuring that a safe system of work is designed and adhered to will naturally necessitate a paper trail.

Everyday dangers

But, as we stood in the cess outside Clapham Junction and a South Western Railway train thundered past at 60mph, 2 metres from our faces, my respect for the bravery and professionalism of the people who go out in all weathers to carry out the essential work that keeps our railways moving grew even deeper.

One of ORR’s main aims is to work to make the railways safer for passengers and workers; safety culture is a huge part of that and the PTS course demonstrated the industry’s resolve to meet that challenge every day.