AN AMEY Rail gang was ejected from the West Coast Main Line last week for 'unsafe working practices' while carrying out ultrasonic rail testing on a 160km stretch of track.
Serving the prohibition notice on the gang, a Health & Safety Executive inspector cited insufficient lookouts. The lookout could only see an estimated 250m down the track. For 160km/h trains the recommended siting distance to allow safe evacuation of staff from the line is 1,200m. The gang also used an unsafe access point to the site that was only 2m from the track.
And, continuing another practice Railtrack is trying to minimise, the lookout was using a flag and horn system to warn the gang. Standards state an automatic system should be used where possible.
'Unless teeth are put to these standards they are useless, ' said a safety expert. 'It is amazing in this day and age that we are still resorting to waving a flag to warn men.'
The incident took place near Stechford in the Midlands on a live line or 'red zone prohibited area'. Railtrack drafted a new version of its DP050 standard in April that seeks to minimise red zone working. But the standard was never pushed through because, according to one industry insider, regional managers complained it would be too disruptive.
A redraft will be issued later this year. A Railtrack spokesman said it would 'give more specific guidance and a hierarchy of procedures as to how track workers should operate'.
HSE inspector Tony Woodward, who issued the notice, said: 'Railtrack needs to clarify exactly what red zone prohibited means.' He also suggested the need to get away from the 'rule book mentality' that exists in the industry whereby unsafe practices are allowed as they comply with a standard.
An Amey spokesman said this week that it had sent a team to investigate the incident at Stechford.
In a similar incident, Carillion was last week fined £15,000 at Birmingham Magistrates Court for failing to ensure the safety of contract labour.