New Route Level Crossing Managers

I spent time yesterday with some of the Network Rail National Level Crossing Team as they hosted an ‘away day’ with their newly appointed Route Level Crossing Managers (RLCMs). There were 8 of the 10 routes represented there.

All of these are experienced Network Rail operational people, in fact Darren Furness from the National Team said that there was 91 years of level crossing experience in the room!

I had been asked to speak and, of course, tailored my talk to the audience, focussing this time on the real risk at level crossings and giving more emphasis than usual to the memo that been sent by the equivalent of a Level Crossing Manager of the day to the Route Production Manager. That memo, written a couple of years before, was not acted upon at the time but if it had, and the risk at Elsenham realised, then Olivia and Charlie would not be dead. Just installing a ticket machine on the other platform, a practical risk reduction solution which the writer suggested, would have avoided them having to cross the tracks in the first place. I asked these new Route Level Crossing Managers not to ignore the feedback they get from their teams and to help them to understand that risk management is not just about the dry quantitative stuff that comes out of their risk modelling software, but about real people – some of who will be disabled, deaf, old and slow, children – or worse – groups of children, people distracted by their phone or music player, or just plain tired.

Unless all level crossings are closed, which is not going to happen, there will always be accidents because people do and always will make mistakes. But what I want for these route-based level crossing management teams  when they hear of an accident on their route, is to know with confidence that the risks had been properly assessed they that they had organised the correct level of protection there. I want there to be transparency – I don’t want to hear of them defending their lack of action on a risk score equating to 1 fatality in 44,000 years! I want them to really appreciate the responsibility that their roles carry and to go home at night knowing that they are doing the best possible job. A job that can really make a difference to the safety of the public.

The judge’s comments at the end of the Elsenham court case summed up Network Rail’s failures as systemic, rather than operational. I want to feel confident that the changes that National Level Crossing Team are driving through, with the Chief Executive’s support, are being acted upon at route level, and that behaviours will really begin to change.

One of the people introduced himself as a colleague of the assessor who completed the inaccurate (very low scored) risk assessment at Elsenham. I am told she was badly affected by the deaths of Olivia and Charlie and as a mother herself am sure she understands the devastating impact that the loss of our daughters has had on me and Charlie’s mother, in particular. This lady no longer works in risk management but she understands the huge responsibility that the role holds. I don’t blame her or hold her responsible for what happened. She was new to the job and probably hadn’t been trained properly, a result of the systemic failings. Her manager signed off her work, but it was clearly  more of a tick box exercise to say that the assessments had been done than a real review of the risks, or a check of the work undertaken by a new assessor. That was over seven years ago.

What concerns me more is the RAIB report into the accident at Kings Mill just last May. This indicates that the lessons from Elsenham are still not being learned and shoddy attitudes to risk still exist on the ground. That has got to change.

The writer of the Elsenham memo, which described in such chillingly accurate detail the accident that would occur, has since retired.  But the person who received the memo is now a Route Managing Director! I can only hope that their conscience was pricked sufficiently when the ORR investigators turned up to ask why it had not been acted upon, and that has brought about a change in behaviour that will now be driven down through the route organisations as these teams are finally put in place.

RAIB accident report at Kings Mill level crossing published

The RAIB (Rail Accident Investigation Branch – part of the DfT)  published their report into the incident at Kings Mill crossing on 2 May 2012 last week. The incident resulted in the death of Philip Dawn who was cycling across the tracks when he was struck and fatally injured by a train. You can see the report here.

I hope the report made difficult reading for Network Rail’s route management team. The crossing was inadequately protected by the train drivers blowing the horn to warn crossing users. The line speed was increased and Network Rail approved the change in speed even though the time required to traverse the crossing was greater than the time allowed following the horn sounding.

The crossing had been promoted as part of a Heritage Trail and there is an increased risk with disabled users on mobility scooters using the crossing.

I spoke with Philip Dawn’s sister yesterday. The family are extremely disappointed that the report appears place the responsibility for Phil’s death on his shoulders. She had seen the train’s forward facing camera footage and accepts that her brother must have been wearing headphones as he did not react at all to the train horn sounded as the train approach the crossing and Phil was in it’s path.

Their concern is that two pedestrians helped him by holding the gate open so that he could ride across, and wonders if they had not heard the warning from the train – they were not wearing headphones. What if a deaf person wants to use the crossing? There is insufficient sighting to cross safely.

The crossing has now been amended – straightening what was a skewed crossing at about 40° so Phil was facing away from the train as it approached.  As I was grateful for Liv and Charlie facing away from the train and quite literally did not know anything about it ;Phil’s sister takes comfort from the knowledge that he seemed completely unaware of the approaching train.

Network Rail are trialling a prototype warning at Kings Mill which provides a warning sound emitted at the crossing triggered by the train approaching and picked up through the vibration in the rails, but extra warnings appear to be emitted once the train has gone through and if this happens frequently enough the users will begin to lose trust in the warnings.  They have at least straightened the crossing thereby shortening the crossing time.

The Inquest into Philip Dawn’s death is yet to be scheduled.

First level crossing death in 2013

A sad start to 2013 with the news of a death on the level crossing at Yarnton in Oxfordshire. No details yet of what happened, but the initial unconfirmed report I heard suggested a mechanical failure of the car. It is another automatic half barrier crossing – the same type of barrier where a grandmother drove her car onto a crossing and it was hit by a train in Yorkshire less than a month  ago. That day a little girl was killed. Today someone else lost their life.

Automatic half barriers are little more than car park barriers – affording little protection and providing no warning to the train via the signals if a car or other obstacle is on the track at the crossing.

Network Rail needs to invest in research into alternative more appropriate protection and to phase out these dangerous crossings.