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Counting the cost of track protection


Nocton happened a year to the day after Selby. What can be done to protect the tracks?

Safety improvements on all the UK's structures carrying roads over or under railway lines will cost around £50M, local authority engineers estimated this week.

These calculations followed the publication of post-Selby reports by the Health and Safety Executive and the Highways Agency concluding that all 10,000 sites should be assessed to identify the risk of a similar disaster reoccurring.

The problem, of course, is that, as many engineers have pointed out this week, any improvements recommended will need to be funded. And this funding will be allocated alongside all the other traffic safety related improvement on a cost-benefit risk assessment basis.

But there are no plans by central government to provide additional cash to pay for the improvements recommended.

Local authorities, which are responsible for the bulk of the sites in question, and the Highways Agency, which looks after the relative minority of motorways and trunk roads locations, will be left with a can that they cannot afford to carry.

Any local authority improvements will be forced to compete for funding with other transport schemes and be paid for out of existing local transport plan budgets.

Nevertheless, local authority engineers are eager to take on the problem and react to the dangers.

In anticipation of the reports, many had already started to rank bridges and sites in their area in line with guidance issued by the CSS and Railtrack.

Despite their fears over funding, engineers are pleased that the reports have finally highlighted the problem. Potentially dangerous sites will at last be properly assessed.

One local authority engineer said: 'The reports have not solved any of the problems - they have bought them to the surface and will provide local authorities with some tough choices. But at least we are now aware of the choice.'

While he praised the reports, he added that they should have been published years ago. The Selby disaster, he pointed out, would not have happened if engineers had carried out a risk assessment and recommended the appropriate improvements.

Under the new guidance, highway sites such as on the M62 alongside the Selby rail crash location would be deemed as high risk. This is simply because there is a high speed road carrying more traffic than originally envisaged across the East Coast Main Line, which is a busy, high speed rail route.

The assessment results will mean that each authority will be able to decide whether or not work should be carried out ahead of other highway improvement schemes in its area. It will also be able to plan and adjust its works programme as necessary.

However, preliminary analysis suggests that of the 10,000 sites in the UK, roughly a quarter will need improvement works. And with engineers costing even a minor improvement at around £10,000 - and on average, when alterations to road layout, barriers and signing are required, this climbs to £20,000 - they predict a total cost of around £50M.

Steve Turner INFOPLUS www.

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