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An element of danger

The Rail Accident Investigation Branch is ten years old this autumn. It has already produced more than 300 reports but, as Sim Harris reports, the dedication of railway accident investigation inspectors goes back a lot further than that, and has helped to make the modern British network the safest in Europe.

THE railway in Britain is officially described as ‘the safest in Europe’, and as the network is also one of the most congested in the world that is no mean feat.

In the London area alone, hundreds of trains routinely bring over half a million people into the centre each morning – and that figure does not include another 400,000 or so who use Transport for London rail services for their daily journeys.

The job of the railway inspectors was to provide a careful analysis, without assumption or prejudice, but although their conclusions sometimes improved nineteenth century working conditions more effectively than the trade unions, the emphasis of HMRI at the time was on serious accidents rather than the routine safety of staff

Each year, more than 1,300 million people use National Rail trains and not only, of course, in the London area.

But, to quote Network Rail, the first priority is to make sure that everyone is back home safely each night – an aim which is almost invariably achieved. In fact, injuries to passengers travelling on trains are now extremely rare, and the casualties which regrettably still occur generally affect people who have found their way on to the railway itself or behaved foolishly at level crossings.

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About Railnews

The tempestous Network Rail evidence session held by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee in late October makes the lead in the new edition of Railnews. The Committee has been deeply critical of Network Rail's management of its projects with particular attention being paid to the Great Western Main Line, where costs have trebled and the work itself is behind schedule. Another problem, but perhaps a happier one, is the overcrowding on the recently reopened Borders Railway. This reached such a point during the October mid-term school holidays in Scotland that replacement buses had to be used, and we also reveal that the large car park at the Tweedbank terminus already needs an 'overflow' area. There have been several openings in October, including the new station at Oxford Parkway and the Thameslink depot at Three Bridges, as well as the modernised Manchester Victoria. The National Training Academy for Rail in Northampton was also declared formally open by rail minister Claire Perry, who made an impassioned plea during her speech for the railway to look forward, saying: “This is an industry for the future – not the past”. British Transport Police are seeking a youth who crossed the tracks at a station only moments before a fast train ran through, while a bid to replace the Victorian crossing gates at Plumpton in Sussex has hit a snag -- a judge has granted the local council an injunction against Network Rail carrying out the work on planning grounds. In other news, trams should be running on the first part of Manchester's Second City Crossing before Christmas, Virgin Trains and Stagecoach Group have rebranded the Flying Scotsman and also issued a joint call for franchises to be replaced by licensed operators on intercity routes, while National Express has signed two more operating contracts in Germany.

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