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Railtrack urged to drop old fashioned work safety systems

RAILTRACK THIS week came under pressure to phase out its traditional flag and horn trackside warning systems as part of a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) crackdown on accidents involving railway workers.

The HSE urged the track operator to increase the use of automatic track warning systems (ATWS) to warn rail workers of oncoming trains, during live track work.

More than 30 railway workers have died on site over the last 15 years.

HSE's calls came in a report on Railtrack's progress towards increasing the amount of 'green zone' working - work which takes place when track is closed to trains.

The report urges Railtrack to speed the time taken to approve automatic warning systems for use on the railways. This approval system has been heavily criticised in the past for preventing the introduction of new technology (NCE 21 September).

One automatic track worker warning system, Minimel 90, was first introduced in the UK in 1994 and has been in use in Europe since 1982. It is still awaiting full national approval. A modified Minimel 95 system is still awaiting trials.

'Railtrack should require the use of ATWS for large scale jobs and those of significant duration, ' the report recommends, saying Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate should encourage increased use of such systems.

At the moment there is no pressure on contractors from Railtrack or the safety authorities to use ATWS and the report describes a 'disappointingly small' take up of these systems as a result.

Railtrack hopes to reduce the fatality rate among trackside workers from the 1 in 10,000 a year now to 1 in 20,000 a year by 2009.

The fatality target has been exceeded for the past two years.

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