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Safety inspectors hindered by HMRI policy vacuum

NEWS

A LACK of policy guidance from senior management is hampering Her Majesty's Railways Inspectorate's (HMRI) efforts to improve rail safety, experts claimed this week.

HMRI safety policy has been in limbo since the departure of former chief inspector of railways Vic Coleman, they said.

Coleman helped drive HMRI policy, but left the organisation in January following what many felt was unjust criticism in last year's report by Lord Cullen in to the Ladbroke Grove accident.

Allan Sefton, previously head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Scotland, was appointed as 'caretaker manager', but one safety expert said his appointment was more administrative and that HMRI still lacked a head of field inspections.

In his report, Cullen demanded the creation of a new head of the HMRI requiring 'an outstanding manager, not necessarily with a rail background'. A HMRI spokesman said it was awaiting this appointment before deciding if a new chief inspector was required.

One track safety expert said that a lack of policy direction was leading inspectors to serve more enforcement notices, as a way of covering themselves if there was another train crash.

A rail union source said that HMRI needed to lead the industry and dictate policy, not just punish failings and carrying out accident investigations.

The first six monthly deadline for some of Cullen's recommendations is next month.

As directed, the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) is preparing a report on progress, and is expected to say that deadlines for implementing some recommendations will not be met, and need to be rescheduled.

The expected delay follows similar problems with recommendations made in part one of the Ladbroke Grove inquiry report published last June. The HSC's update report states that while, in principle, recommendations are accepted, they can not be carried out in the proposed timescales.

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