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Reject unsafe rail contractors says Cullen


RAILTRACK MUST reject bids for maintenance and renewal work from contractors with weak safety systems, says Lord Cullen in part two of his report into the Ladbroke Grove train crash, published last week.

Railtrack must also become more involved in managing safety critical work and get more of a grip on its contractors, said Cullen.

Part one of his report into the disaster at Paddington in October 1999, which killed 31 people, covered the crash itself and was published in June.

Part two makes 74 recommendations about how the organisation and structure of Britain's railways should be changed to improve safety.

Cullen's recommendations will dramatically change the relationship between Railtrack and its contractors.

Contractors support the proposals: most said they would not adversely affect decent firms, but would hit those that fail to take safety seriously.

The report says the method of selecting contractors, which gives little regard to the state of training of their staff, must change. Priority must be given to contractors with good training systems in place.

The report estimates there are 2,000 contractors working in the rail industry and says this number must be reduced, with fewer contractors having more responsibility.

It welcomes Railtrack's efforts to be more involved with safety critical work, but recommends further control. Railtrack has been giving more of its engineers control of work in the regional zones, but has yet to be tested when safety issues conflict with network performance.

Railtrack should ensure subcontractors work to the same safety rules as its main contractors. Control of contractor and subcontractor quality management is inadequate, says the report, and it is essential that Railtrack does more to ensure their work is properly monitored.

The Sentinel, a card registration scheme for contract labour, needs to be reinforced, says the report. It wants the scheme to include a record of hours worked by staff, to ensure maximum hours are not exceeded and to stop labourers working successive shifts with different contractors.

Railtrack's critics said this would mean the track operator would have to plan work better to avoid putting contractors under pressure to meet deadlines.

Last week Railtrack launched a pilot internet scheme aimed at ensuring all staff hired are properly registered and trained.

Cullen wants it to take staff training issues further and look at the possibility of establishing a staff training academy.

Contractors themselves must shoulder responsibility for safety, says the report.

They should all establish a strategic safety management leadership team, led by their chief executives, to consider safety issues.

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