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Rail's slow approvals cost 30 lives

QUICKER APPROVALS procedures for track worker warning systems could have prevented more than 30 rail deaths over the last 15 years, a senior Railtrack safety official said this week.

Deputy director of Railtrack's Safety & Standards Directorate Aidan Nelson said that the system run by Railtrack with input from Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate 'should never lose sight of those at risk'.

He added that it 'should not allow perfection to be the enemy of good.'

Slow moving approvals procedures have forced workers on many live rail sites to rely on flags and horns to warn of approaching trains. More reliable automated warning systems triggered by approaching trains are used in Europe.

Problems concerning warning systems for trackside workers surfaced this week after signalling companies complained about the time and cost involved in getting signalling systems approved (NCE last week).

At present just two automated warning systems for track workers can be used in the UK. Only one of these is approved for use across the entire rail network.

Schweitzer's ARW system has been in use in Europe since 1978.

It was first introduced to the UK in June 1996, but only received final approval a month ago.

The Minimel 90 system has been in use on the continent since 1982 and was first proposed in the UK in September 1994. It was paritially approved in December 1998 but is still awaiting full national approval.

An updated Minimal 95, which came to the UK in August 98, has not even started trials as yet.

Developed in 1996 it has been in use in Germany for three years.

There the approval process from concept to general use took 18 months.

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