The bigger business risk picture

Safety lessons can help railway cut cost, says industry body RSSBA risk-based business-approach to safety management has brought massive improvements to the safety profile of Britain’s railways. The same approach can help the industry take safe decisions to tackle unnecessary cost and improve overall business performance.

Rail continues to be the safest form of land transport. In 2009/10 it’s estimated that there were about 1.25 billion passenger journeys made yet safety performance statistics published by RSSB show that there were no passenger or workforce fatalities in train accidents, the fourth financial year in the last five where this is the case. Level crossings are one of the biggest sources of risk for a train accident to occur but European Rail Agency figures show that Britain’s level crossings are the safest in the EU.

Cost reduction & safety
The British rail industry is, however, relatively expensive compared to other countries, and it’s widely recognised within industry and government that the taxpayer pays too much. RSSB says that cost savings do not conflict with good safety, in fact safety risk is actually just a part of the bigger business risk picture and lessons learned from safety improvement over the last decade can help with the task ahead.

Contrary to some of the preconceptions that exist, which suggest you have to increase costs to improve safety, RSSB’s view is that cost reduction is consistent with good safety.

RSSB’s director of Policy, Research and Risk, Anson Jack explains: “The country needs a sound, safe, reliable railway system to support economic recovery, but also facilitate the greening of transport – both high on the new coalition government’s agenda.”

The national rail network is central to the British economy, which sees over 1.2 billion passengers a year. 450,000 commute into London each day in the morning peak, with two million people either starting or ending their journey in London.

Network Rail provides the infrastructure for the mainline railway, including 2,500 stations for 25 passenger train operators carrying three million passengers a day, as well as seven freight operators delivering 200,000 tonnes of goods a day. There are estimated to be about 180,000 members of the workforce in total.

Key industries
Anson explains that there are five key ingredients that have supported improvements in safety, which could be applied to broader business performance:
•    Cooperation
•    Risk-based decision making
•    Data and analysis
•    Use of technology and innovation
•    Research and development
Anson continues: “The first major lesson learned by the rail industry on safety is that cooperation is the key to improvement. The industry is disaggregated into at least 100 companies and organisations, but that doesn’t mean it’s uncoordinated or disorganised. On the contrary, all parts of the industry depend on each other to succeed – to support the economy by delivering more people and goods where and when they want to go, safely, cost effectively while minimising the impact on the environment.

“The second major lesson that we can apply,” continues Anson, “is that all changes and decisions should be risk-based and derived from evidence built from verifiable data, much of which needs to be shared across the industry. While safety is the number one priority, it does not need to cost excessive sums and principle based decisions can be made, not to invest in so called ‘gold plating’.”

However safe the railway may be, nobody is complacent. Anson goes on: “We are all human, and humans make mistakes. But the use of technology to support human activity can improve performance, reduce cost, increase safety and protect the workforce and passengers from harm. That means increasing the use of modern inspection and maintenance technology and reducing the numbers of people directly exposed to risks – this is a responsible, safe and cost effective approach.”

Overseas interest
RSSB’s products and services are seeing increasing interest from overseas, and models and tools have already been licensed as far away as Australia. The Taking Safe Decisions1  approach has also been applied in other sectors, such as the nuclear sector and also in the roads sector. Other RSSB-managed safety tools have supported cost reductions, either through making things more efficient or preventing expensive failures.

A web-based system for sharing real-time safety alerts across different rail companies was cited as best practice by the investigators into the Buncefield oil depot accident.

Research underway
Collaborative research has underpinned the railway’s safety improvement, and RSSB believes research will be vital to providing the evidence base for ongoing future cost efficiencies and to support the economic recovery. Compared to other industries, the rail industry spends a smaller proportion of turnover on R&D (about 0.3 per cent) but the value derived from what is done is much more. The industry research programme, which is managed by RSSB and funded by Department for Transport, ensures knowledge is jointly owned and shared throughout the industry and avoids duplication while aiding industry side implementation.

RSSB’s research and activities are already applying safety experience to the commercial arena, including hot board-room topics such as sustainable development, next generation procurement strategies, how to plan for new technology and how to design reliability into the system.

Recent research has identified £35 million time-cost savings available by streamlining supplier assurance arrangements, which currently cost the whole rail industry about £100 million. Other work which seeks to model the impact of harsher weather events on the system assets suggests a minimum of £1 billion extra cost could be avoided over the next 30 years. Other initiatives already in motion – such as the consolidation and rationalisation of standards and rules – are also set to unlock a range of benefits for the industry.

Anson concludes: “In addition to the safety improvements that we report on, there are many healthy indicators that show higher levels of customer satisfaction, reliability and resilience in the 2010 railway. We now see the opportunity, based on the industry’s well-rehearsed approach to tackle unnecessary costs and improving business performance. An evidence base or an audit trail from data-to-decision is the key and RSSB provides a knowledge function with a whole industry mandate for the industry in this regard.

“We are working with our members – including Network Rail and the train operating companies – to support the whole industry in tackling the tough challenges ahead, to deliver a more sustainable and cost effective railway.”

1. Taking Safe Decisions describes the industry consensus view of how decisions should be taken that properly protect the safety of rail industry staff, passengers and others, satisfy the law and respect the interests of stakeholders, whilst remaining commercially sound. It can be downloaded from the RSSB website at

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