FATAL ACCIDENTS and unsafe work practices by rail maintenance contractors rose steeply last year, according to figures published this week by Railtrack.
The statistics were confirmed in Safetyplan, a new ten year railway safety strategy set out by the Railway Group, the rail industry safety body which includes Railtrack and its maintenance contractors. The strategy aims to reverse the growing trend of trackside accidents.
Figures show that Railtrack cannot meet its target to reduce fatal accidents to less than one for every 10,000 workers set last year. There were three trackside fatalities in1998.
The report also shows the number of unsafe acts by contractors has risen to an all time high of about 110 incidents in October/November 1998, compared to about 30 incidents the previous year.
Railtrack denied the figures represent a drop in rail safety standards. 'The past five years have been the best in history,' said Railtrack safety strategy and planning controller Aiden Nelson. But he said the rise in the three indicators showed there was no room for complacency about safety on the railway.
Nelson claimed the increase in unsafe incidents did not take into account the growth in work in the rail industry. He also said there were more incidents logged as the safety culture introduced by Railtrack encouraged reporting and meant more accidents or near misses were counted.
Safetyplan is seen by Railtrack as a landmark document. For the first time it sets out a ten year strategy for Railtrack and its maintenance contractors to improve the railway safety culture. The report focuses on improving risk management by contractors and promises a communications protocol to set out how site instructions are issued and carried out.
'It is all about getting a safety culture in place,' said Balfour Beatty rail maintenance managing director Steve Huxley. 'The general approach of having a strategy for safety management in the industry is right.'