TallriteLogo.jpg (6214 bytes) Letter published in The

EconomistLogo.JPG (1971 bytes)  on December 8th 2000

Subject : Rail Safety (in the UK)

Tony Allwright, Killiney, Dublin                                      You can write to to the author by clicking here

Copyright : The Economist

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This letter** was published in response to a leader ("The price of safety**") and lengthy follow-up article on rail safety in the UK ("How not to run a railway**")  that appeared in The Economist on November 25th 2000

**Copyright : The Economist

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SIR—The whole concept of ATPS [Advanced Train Protection System] needs to be questioned, since it excludes from the safety loop the most important players—employees. For example, with the driver freed of the necessity to react to red lights since the ATPS will do it for him, it is inevitable that his overall awareness will flag and pave the way for other hazards to emerge.

Nothing is easier, flashier and more satisfying than writing a big cheque (using someone else’s money) for a fancy new piece of hardware such as ATPS and declaring the problem solved. However, as you work down the list of other safety features, though things cost less money and are increasingly effective, they require more and continuous management effort and are less glamorous for the bosses. But if you are genuinely passionate about avoiding blood loss, there is no other route to continuous safety improvement.


TONY ALLWRIGHT
Killiney, Ireland

 

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This letter was, in fact, an abridged version of what was submitted to the Editor of The Economist, and has unfortunately lost something in the abridging process.   The original version was the following, in which the deleted portions are highlighted in red italics and an added phrase is in blue italics.  It is based on the arguments set out in a speech (Reference 1 below) presented at a conference in Oman in October 2000

SIR -

It is about time someone breathed some common business sense into the emotion-dominated issue of rail safety, as you did in your leader and follow-up article on November 25th 2000.  Using money to assess the relative effectiveness of different fatality-avoidance investment options is common practice throughout responsible industry, and you have demonstrated how the enormous 2 billion cost of an Advanced Train Protection System (ATPS) could be better deployed in other ways to save perhaps 15 times as many lives.

Moreover, the whole concept of the ATPS needs to be questioned, since it patently excludes from the safety loop the most important players - the employees. For example, with the driver freed of the necessity to react to red lights since the ATPS will do it for him, it is inevitable that his overall awareness will flag and pave the way for other hazards to emerge. Surely the right solution is to train and persuade the drivers to remain alert for red lights and other hazards and to take the proper action.

Successful safety management rests on five building blocks, each dependent on proper implementation of the previous one, each cheaper and more effective than the previous one. They are :

  1. Hardware (the basic equipment must be sound);
  2. Procedures (these set out how the equipment must be operated);
  3. Skills (people need the skills to implement the procedures);
  4. Attitude (people need to be willing to apply their skills); and
  5. Relationships (relationships between people at all levels and amongst client and contractor companies need to be optimised through continuous open communication in order to develop practical safety solutions that take account of the needs and constraint of all parties).

However, company managements, and it would seem politicians, are often utterly seduced by only the first of these five, and for a very simple reason.   Nothing is easier, flashier and more satisfying than writing a big cheque (using someone else's money) for a fancy new piece of hardware such as ATPS and declaring the problem solved. For as you work down the list of other safety features, though things cost less money and are increasingly effective, they require more and continuous management effort and are less glamorous for the bosses. But if you are genuinely passionate about avoiding blood loss, there is no other route to continuous safety improvement. To behave otherwise is both to not care and to be lazy.


TONY ALLWRIGHT
Killiney, Ireland

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References

  1. Allwright, Tony, "QHSE - Where to Now ? ... "Relationships & Passion", keynote address presented by the author at the IADC Drilling Middle East 2000 Conference held in Muscat, Oman, 21st-23rd October 2000

 

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