Means for a Safer Railway

How safe is our rail network? On the surface, railway security in the UK looks reasonably safe with no report of drastic negligence or untoward incident apart from the tragedy of 7 /7, which dramatically impacted the London Underground infrastructure.  In the heyday of Steam Railway, security was barely a consideration.  However, times have changed and there is now more than ever a need for joined-up thinking and a focus of high quality security services.  And in my opinion that means one thing – the Rail Safety Accreditation Scheme (RSAS).  In 2011, railway safety is not just about policing the people alone, it’s about complex range of issues ranging from track safety, signals, logistics and surveillance.  In fact, with the convoluted organisation and management structure behind our railways it is hard to believe there is any security at all.

Britain has possibly one of the most complex railway and freight networks in Europe (maybe even the world). With several different companies running train services and others like Network Rail looking after the tracks, the management of railways in the UK is hugely fragmented leading to all sorts of confusion. This organisational fragmentation gives autonomy to the various companies to provide for their own security. And unfortunately, there is no set pattern that defines the process of giving out security contracts to private companies. As a result, there are any number of security companies looking after different aspects of safety and security.

Take for example a busy interchange station in the centre of the UK. This station is used by at least half a dozen rail operators plus companies involved with maintenance and logistics. Each company will have separately contracted security providers in addition to the main firm providing security at the station. There is no denying the fact that this could lead to a great deal of confusion, not just for the public but also amongst the security providers… who’s responsibility is that particular job??? Since the various companies do not necessarily have a strategic co-ordinated plan or cross company communications it certainly leaves our railway stations, passenger and freight trains vulnerable to possible terrorist attacks to say the least.

However, in my opinion this is not the only problem. The second issue – and one that is infinitely more solvable is the range of skills and training inherent to each company. All the security personnel from different companies that operate in the railways should be properly trained to the same levels and same criteria.

The solution already exists in the form of the RSAS but it is staggering the number of operators who neither know about it or check that their contractors have been through the necessary training and accreditation. Working under the guidelines of the RSAS the whole rail industry would be able to police the network far more efficiently. Why? Well the RSAS mission says it all: “to work in partnership with others to help build a safe railway environment that is free from disruption and the fear of crime.” One of the ways that they achieve this is by improving flow of information among the people in charge of security. They also ensure that the people who take up railway safety operation are well trained and supported to deliver the highest possible quality of service.

RSAS accreditation should be used as a benchmark for providing the best levels of safety and security to freight, passengers and railway property. Railways are a part of our national history and modern day infrastructure and we must ensure that it remains safe for everyone and meets the highest level of security standards.

Abbey Petkar

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