Russell Keir, Vice Chair of IOSH Railway Group explains why Train Operating Companies and Entities in Charge of Maintenance (ECMs) must work together

On the 26 August 2020, a freight train hauling 25 laden tank wagons containing fuel derailed near Llangennech, in Carmarthenshire. This resulted in approximately 446,000 litres of fuel spilling from the wagons, polluting the environment and catching fire. The Railway Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) report concluded: ‘An underlying factor was that the approach to the maintenance and monitoring of the condition of wagons and safety critical components within the rail freight sector was not based upon best practice.’

Just like plant, machinery, road transport and aircraft, all rail vehicles are required to be maintained. This increases the life of the rail vehicle and maintains reliability and availability; it is also economically less expensive than undertaking emergency repairs and is a significant factor in providing a safe and reliable railway.

What is a rail vehicle and why is it maintained?
Whilst this may appear to be a simple question, the answer is wide ranging since there are five principal types of rolling stock:

  • Locomotives – These are the vehicles that provide power to haul a train of unpowered railway vehicles, such as carriages and wagons.
  • Wagons – These are unpowered railway vehicles used to transport freight.
  • Carriages – These are unpowered railway vehicles used to transport passengers.
  • Multiple units – These are self-propelled vehicles, with their own power units, which can be coupled together to form a single train. These are typically passenger trains.
  • On Track Machines (OTMs) – when used outside of engineering possessions on the mainline railway, OTMs are treated in the same way as other mainline vehicles. These are engineering vehicles used to maintain railway infrastructure. They can be self-propelled single units or several rail vehicles working as a single unit, with at least one having a power unit.

The rolling stock may be owned by the rail operator, or, for most passenger carrying trains, it will be leased from a Rolling Stock Leasing Company (ROSCO). However, the safe and reliable operation of rolling stock rests with the operating company. To operate trains on the GB mainline railway network, an operator must have a ‘Safety Authorisation’ issued to them by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), which is the independent safety and economic regulator for Britain’s railways. This is a requirement of Regulation 10 of The Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (as amended) (ROGS).

ROGS Regulation 5 requires organisations to have in place a Safety Management System (SMS). An SMS is a systematic and active approach to managing hazards and risks. This includes oversight
of the supply chain and management of change. These are important since the operator may not be the ECM. The operator needs to have oversight of the maintenance activities and to be able to assure that maintenance is carried out to the required specifications and frequency and that any changes in design or maintenance approach are fully considered and managed, taking into account possible safety implications.

Why the Entity in Charge of Maintenance (ECM) regime came about
There are two notable incidents where insufficient maintenance of a freight wagon resulted in loss of life and so helped shape the current approach to managing risk in operating freight wagons. A significant finding in the review of the accidents at Rickerscote, in Staffordshire and Viareggio, Lucca, in Tuscany was that no robust arrangements were in place for the wagons’ owners / keepers to know the true condition of the wagon at any time. The outcome of this was that the operator could not say with any confidence that any wagon was in a fit state for use.

UK driver for change – Rickerscote
On 8 March 1996, a freight train derailed at Rickerscote, Staffordshire due to a tank wagon axle failure. A section of the derailed freight train landed on the adjacent line and derailed a Travelling Post Office (TPO) train. One person lost their life and twenty others were injured. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) investigation found that the wagon had travelled 69,000 miles since
its last inspection (at the time, wagons were expected to be examined every 24,000 miles) and concluded that the axle had failed due to fatigue, probably initiated by corrosion pitting on the axle’s surface.

The failed axle had been maintained broadly in line with long-established industry standards. However, there were different standards of maintenance in operation following privatisation of the railways between 1994-96, and Railtrack, which managed the infrastructure, was unable to confirm if all wagons operating on its network were up to date with their maintenance schedules. HSE made eleven recommendations, the key recommendation being that Railtrack should harmonise its Group Standards so that all vehicles using the network are maintained to the same standard and recorded using a single system.

European Union (EU) driver for change –Viareggio
On 29 June 2009, there was a freight train derailment and consequential fire at Viareggio station, Lucca, in Italy. The derailment was due to mechanical failure of the front axle of the first wagon, probably due to a fatigue crack. The wagon struck the platform and led six other wagons into houses alongside the railway line. Two wagons carrying liquid petroleum gas (LPG) erupted and caught fire. Thirty-two people were killed and a further twenty-six were injured. The Directorate General for Railway Investigations concluded that the cause was a broken, 16-year-old axle on a ‘new’ LPG tanker.

Some regulatory background
The European Commission (EC) adopted the first railway package, in 2001, which set out a European Union legal framework to open up markets, through technical compatibility of trains and infrastructure, to enable the railway to compete more effectively with other forms of transport.

The EC adopted the Second Railway Package, in 2004, to create a legally and technically integrated European railway area. The Third Railway Package was adopted in 2007 to open up international passenger services to competition within the EU by 2010.

The aim of the Fourth Railway Package, not adopted in the UK following the UK’s exit from the EU on 1 January 2020, was to remove remaining barriers to the creation of a single European rail area and help create a more competitive rail sector, with better connections between the EU and its neighbouring countries.

So, what is an Entity in Charge of Maintenance (ECM)?
Prior to the Second Railway Package, much of the focus had been on freight transportation, due to there being ‘no robust arrangements in place for the wagons owners / keepers to know the true
condition of the wagon at any time’ (as discussed earlier). So Europe and the UK focused on the area of high risk – Wagons. The arrangements for maintaining passenger trains and engineering trains were, however, more robust. It was envisaged that, in time, all ECMs for rail vehicles on the main line railway would require an ECM certificate, and this requirement was incorporated into
the Fourth railway package – but does not apply to domestic railway operations in Great Britain.

An ‘Entity in Charge of Maintenance’ (ECM) is any person or organisation that is responsible for the safe maintenance of a vehicle and is registered as an ECM in the National Vehicle Register (NVR). This can include people or organisations such as transport undertakings, infrastructure managers, a keeper, or a maintenance organisation.

An ‘Entity in Charge of Maintenance must ensure, by means of a system of maintenance, that a vehicle for which it is in charge of maintenance is in a safe state of running’. Vehicles operating on the mainline railway must have an ECM assigned to them. In addition, ECMs responsible for freightwagons must be certified by a certification body to ensure that they have established a maintenance system and can meet the requirements of the ECM regulations.

The current legislative framework
The Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations 2006 (ROGS) implemented the European Railway Safety Directive (2004/49/EC), with its aim to establish a common approach to rail safety and support the development of a single market for rail transport services in Europe.

Regulation 18A of ROGS requires that: 18A – No person may place in service or use a vehicle on the mainline railway unless that vehicle has an entity in charge of maintenance assigned to it, and that entity in charge of maintenance:
a. is registered in relation to that vehicle in the National Vehicle Register; and
b. holds an ECM certificate if the vehicle is a freight wagon.

Each ECM must ensure that, through a system of maintenance, a vehicle for which it is responsible is safe to run on the mainline railway. The system of maintenance is the maintenance of a vehicle in accordance with:

  •  The maintenance file for that vehicle.
  • Applicable maintenance rules.
  • Applicable technical specifications.

Rail Freight – ECM certification requirements
An ECM responsible for freight wagons should obtain an ECM certificate from a certification body. Certification Bodies established in the UK are accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation
Service (UKAS). The UK also recognises ECM certificates issued in EU Member States. However, ECMs responsible for the maintenance of vehicles used for cross-border services will need to obtain a cross-border UK-issued ECM certificate issued in accordance with ECM Regulation 2019/779 for their cross-border operations. ECMs that maintain vehicles in the EU need to obtain
a new ECM certificate from a certification body in an EU member state.

Further advice can be found in ‘ORR Guidance on Entities in Charge of Maintenance’. This can be found on the ORR website.

ECM stand still period with EU
Following EU Exit in 2020, legal requirements for all freight wagons to be assigned to a certified ECM were inserted into ROGS (Para 18a and Schedule 9 & 10). Provision was also made for continuing mutual recognition of ECM certificates issued by Certification Bodies in Member States to continue when the EU Exit transition period ended in January 2021. However, as part of Government policy to end mutual recognition with the EU, the current ‘standstill’ will cease at the end of 2022. This decision will affect ECM certificates which were not issued in the UK, as well as Interoperability Constituent (IC) conformity certification issued in the EU after 2022.

DfT is drawing up legislation which will amend the sections of ROGS which relate to ECM certification. DfT will give a further steer on this later in the year, following stakeholder communication.

The situation is further complicated by the UK being a signatory to COTIF and having to recognise non-domiciled ECMs for international freight wagons.

Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail (OTIF)
The UK is a member of OTIF, the Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail. Since the EU acceded to COTIF in 2011 (the Convention of OTIF) OTIF has strengthened its role as a bridge between the EU and non-EU Member States. OTIF ensures the consistency of the regulations between its Member States, whether they are members of the EU or not. OTIF’s mission is to promote, improve and facilitate international traffic by rail (Article 2 COTIF 1999). It offers a framework for cooperation in the railway sector to:

  • Extend and develop the application of COTIF.
  • Agree on uniform legal regimes.
  • Envisage and enshrine systems of technical compatibility and harmonisation.
  • Contribute to the elimination of barriers to border crossing.

Train Operating Companies and Entities in Charge of Maintenance (ECMs) must work together to ensure the rail vehicles they oversee are in good working order and can operate safely and reliably, due to having an effective maintenance and assurance regime in place.

Russell J Keir CFIOSH IEng MIET is Vice Chair, IOSH Railway Group