Network Rail contracts could be extended to ensure contractors report more accidents, the rail safety regulator said last week.
Its report into injuries that stop workers carrying out their normal duties for more than three days says that contractors are afraid they will lose contracts if they report accidents.
The report by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) says that between 500 and 600 reportable accidents were found to have gone unreported between 2005 and 2010.
RSSB director of policy, research and risk Anson Jack, who directed the review, called for a “modernising” of how Network Rail procures contracts.
He said Network Rail could learn from the oil and gas industry, which uses partnerships that are often not time limited.
A recent report published by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) concludes that “long-term strategic partnerships [are] providing a mechanism for initiating targeted projects, tackling challenging global issues and responding to situations where relationship building is more important than project outcomes”.
This would represent a change from Network Rail’s current contracts for track renewals, where three main contractors – AmeyColas, Babcock Rail and Balfour Beatty – have contracts that run from September 2007 until the end of the regulatory control period on 31 March 2014.
“The issue would be top of David Higgins’ in-tray when he starts”
Rick Haythornthwaite, Network Rail
Railway Industry Association director general Jeremy Candfield agreed that current arrangements created barriers to accident reporting. “One of the biggest challenges in the industry has been the adversarial culture which developed in the days of Railtrack,” he said. “We have made considerable progress working with Network Rail to achieve a more collaborative approach, but there is still some way to go.”
Network Rail chairman Rick Haythornthwaite said that the issue would be “top of [new chief executive] David Higgins’ in-tray when he starts [on 1 February]”.
“Under David’s leadership I am expecting the company to deliver a step change in safety,” he said.
Higgins started work this week, and immediately addressed the need to tackle safety issues. “My priorities are to drive further a culture of safety,” he said. Higgins joins Network Rail from the Olympic Delivery Authority, where he was chief executive.
A Network Rail spokesman added: “The report has provided much valuable information and, although we are still reviewing the recommendations, we will always look at ways to work more closely with contractors and other industry partners.”
Lord Berkeley, one of the members of Network Rail who act as the company’s shareholders, said he agrees there is a “culture of fear” between Network Rail and contractors. He added: “I think [this is something] Network Rail is trying very hard to change.”