Friday, 7 March 2014

Level Crossing Safety, Network Rail apology, Mark Carne, Transport Select Committee MPs report, Louise Ellman MP, Beccles

Network Rail's new chief executive Mark Carne says the company will continue to improve safety at level crossings after MPs say it has badly treated bereaved families in past accidents.
Paul Coleman reports.

Keeper closes the level crossing gates at Elsenham to open the railway to trains
London Intelligence)

Network Rail - "a full and unreserved apology"

Saying ‘sorry’.

A rapidly growing fad.

Look at Network Rail.
A new man takes over as chief executive of the company that owns and manages Britain’s railways.

First task?
Issue an apology over the way the publicly-funded company – under his predecessors – has treated bereaved families of people killed at level crossings.

Today. 7 March 2014.
Daffodils bloom.
Mark Carne has only just taken over as Network Rail chief executive from Sir David Higgins.
He issues the company’s latest apology – just as Higgins did when he first took up the job in 2011.*

Carne apologises
Carne says: “Today, I wish to extend a full and unreserved apology on behalf of Network Rail to all those whose lives have been touched by a failing, however large or small, made by this company in managing public safety at level crossings and in failing to deal sensitively with the families affected.
  “Nothing we can say or do will lessen the pain felt by the families of those killed or injured at a level crossing. Today Network Rail is a very different company to the one which existed at the time of these tragic accidents.

“As we made clear when we pleaded guilty during the Elsenham court proceedings, it was a watershed in the way we thought about our approach to the risk at level crossings, and how we treat victims and their families.
  “As a result of this transformation, level crossings in Britain are amongst the safest in Europe, but there is still much that we can, and will, do and the committee’s recommendations will help us in that endeavour.”

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne

‘Must apologise’
But Carne’s apology only comes after Members of Parliament on the cross-party House of Commons Transport Select Committee launch a hard-hitting report on level crossing safety (7 March). 
  The MPs say ‘Network Rail must apologise for the way the company has handled past level crossing tragedies’. (Apologise – and cut deaths to zero by 2020).
  Carne continues: “The way Network Rail now manages level crossings has fundamentally improved, with investment totalling £130m over the last five years helping us to close almost 800 crossings and reducing the level of risk across the network by more than a quarter.
  “This progress is welcome, but we will never be complacent when it comes to public safety. As I start my term as chief executive I have made improving public, passenger and workforce safety absolutely integral to everything Network Rail does.

“There is much more we can do to make the level crossings that remain safer and we will continue to introduce new technology, upgrade crossings to include lights or barriers where appropriate and work with schools, communities and other organisations to spread awareness of our safety message.
  “We have agreed funding of more than £100m with the regulator to continue this work over the coming five years as we work tirelessly across the network to make our railways safer.
  “Restoring public trust relies on openness and with that in mind we made risk assessment information relating to almost all our 6,300 crossings available on our website. I will continue to explore ways to make our processes even more transparent so we can demonstrate clearly that we treat our responsibility for ensuring public safety with the utmost professionalism.”
  The MPs’ report makes 25 recommendations, ten of which specifically call on Network Rail to act.

On Network Rail executive bonuses, committee chairman Louise Ellman MP says: “Given that Network Rail has recently been held responsible for the serious accident at Beccles in July 2010, we do not believe executive directors should get any bonuses this year.”
  A ten-year-old boy suffered life-changing injuries in a collision between a train and a car at level crossing near Beccles in Suffolk in July 2010. An investigation by the Office of Rail Regulation found that Network Rail had failed over ten years to act on information about poor visibility of approaching trains.
  In March 2013, Network Rail pleaded guilty to breaches of health and safety law and was later fined £500,000.

Richard Parry-Jones, chairman of Network Rail, says on 7 March 2014, Network Rail’s Board, via its “independent remuneration committee” formed entirely of non-executive directors, will consider the MPs’ recommendations on bonuses.
  The company says annual bonuses for executive directors have either been scaled down or foregone completely in some years between 2010 and 2014, often reflecting level crossing safety concerns.
Level crossing accident fatalities have decreased in recent years. But nine people died in 2012-13.

* Sir David Higgins had only just taken over as Network Rail chief executive in 2011 when two undisclosed documents, revealed only by a whistleblower, showed the company knew as early as 2001 that a level crossing at Elsenham in Essex was highly dangerous but did nothing to make it safe.
Olivia Bazlinton, aged 14, and Charlotte Thompson, 13, were killed by a train at Elsenham station’s footpath level crossing on 3 December, 2005.

Letting children skate on thin ice (Photo: © Simon Weir)

More about level crossing safety after Elsenham, see the London Intelligence report: 

© Paul Coleman, London Intelligence, March 2014

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