Leader comment: Driver’s presence prevented tragedy

Network Rail must never again allow safety checks to slip off the radar.
Network Rail must never again allow safety checks to slip off the radar.
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The term “risk assessment” has become an object of ridicule, as an increasing number of barely credible reports emerge about safety checks that are apparently being taken too far.

But while accidents will always happen, our safety-conscious society means that they are less likely than before, and we should all be grateful for that. At times, we have learned the hard way, as tragedies at unfit-for-purpose football stadiums showed us in the 1980s.

So in light of the advances made, it is disturbing to learn that a lack of safety checks nearly resulted in disaster on Scotland’s rail network, when a high speed train was allowed to cross a viaduct that was close to collapse.

It has emerged that safety checks which should have been carried out on the bridge – and more than 100 other structures – by Network Rail, the track operator, had not taken place “because organisational changes had led to the loss of knowledge and ownership of some structures issues”.

This is a grave concern for anyone travelling on the rail network, and it is a serious failing on the part of Network Rail to forget about vital safety checks when change takes place.

Network Rail was lucky to be saved on this occasion by the observation of a train driver, who raised the alarm which eventually led to the line being closed. As the desire to introduce driverless trains and even cars looks unstoppable, we should consider what the consequences would have been at Lamington Viaduct if there had been no trained observer on board.

The required safety system must be monitored with strict regularly from now on, but if it was to fail, and there is no driver, who then will prevent catastrophe?