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HSE consults on changing rail safety approvals

CHANGES TO the UK's railway approvals system have been proposed by the Health & Safety Executive this week, one year after the Ladbroke Grove rail crash occurred on an unapproved stretch of the Great Western Line.

The consultation document invites responses from the industry. It has been fiercly critical of the current system which allows trains to run on modified sections of track before the HSE has formally confirmed work has been done correctly.

The HSE cites a number of reasons for the changes , including the need to establish common technical and operating standards across Europe, fear of delays to major projects and doubts about the suitability of the present system in such a fragmented industry.

However, the whole of Railtrack and HM Railway Inspectorate approvals system is expected to come under heavy critcism in the second part of Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Ladbroke Grove crash later this year.

The HSE insisted that it did not want to pre-empt Lord Cullen's recommendations and has put forward initial proposals for discussion only.

At present, operation can continue for years under the Railways & Other Transport Systems Regulations without approval, to 'avoid interruption' to services. It is these regulations which allowed the fatal signalling system to be used at the time of the Ladbroke Grove accident.

Under the new proposals it is suggested that portions of the works should be signed off at 'suitable stages'.

The document also proposes improving the prioritisation of approvals. This would bring in different categories of assessment to suit the complexity of the system.

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