RAILTRACK IS to beef up the assessment of vital safety work to ensure it is done properly, chief engineer Andrew McNaughton announced last week.
It could even use external and independent inspectors to carry out the work.
These inspectors will check work classified as 'vital activities' following the launch of the track operator's new engineering strategy in the next few weeks.
The move comes after it emerged that Railtrack had allowed Balfour Beatty to inspect track at the Hatfield train crash site from a remote path next to the railway, rather than insisting that inspectors walked between the tracks (News 3 May).
McNaughton gave some details of the strategy at a Rail Industry Training Council conference in London. The full strategy will not be released until after the company's results are published next week.
In future Railtrack will classify work on the railway in three categories - vital activities, key business activities and other activities.
McNaughton stressed the importance of ensuring that work classified as vital activities was done to the highest safety standards. Inspections 'cannot be nearly right', he said. They would also require licensing to ensure that work is done by competent personnel.
Railtrack will produce very specific work instructions to allow standards to be set consistently across the country. Assessors can then be trained to audit vital activity work.
Key business activities are not as safety critical as vital activities and do not need to be licensed. It is hoped there will be more scope for innovation with this work as it will be subject to less bureaucracy.
McNaughton said Railtrack should be able to increase the life span of its rails by a factor of four on average. Sleepers and ballast should last twice as long and the track operator should also be able to extend the life of its signals.
Railtrack's 'other activities' section covers tasks like fencing. Here standards will be set, but Railtrack will not be telling contractors how to do their jobs.
McNaughton said there also needed to be a nationally recognised rail engineering training certificate to show that engineers from across the industry have achieved a certain level of competence.
He said engineers must be taken from other industries and trained. This, he feels, can be done in months, and is vital in the short term to get track engineers out on site.