The Office of Rail and Road is a non-ministerial Government Department responsible for ensuring the country’s rail operators comply with health and safety law
Board members of ORR are appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport for a fixed term of up to five years. The staff are based at six locations across the United Kingdom, allowing them to conduct on-site inspections across the rail network.
Engineers undertaking work at Didcot Photo: Office of Rail and Road
ORR is responsible for ensuring that the mainline railway and London Underground operation networks are safe for passengers and workers, and that is why around a hundred ORR Safety Inspectors routinely visit worksites to monitor how projects are being run.
18th November 2017 marked 30 years since the King’s Cross fire, which tragically took the lives of 31 people and injured a hundred more.
Ian Prosser, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Railways, wrote at the time about Lord Fennell’s public enquiry into the disaster and the safety recommendations that were made in the aftermath.
One of these was the Safety Management System approach, which has become the basis of not only railway safety in Great Britain, where it has led to fundamental, life-saving improvements, but also throughout Europe.
Following the fire, London Underground acted immediately and began stripping out all of the wooden escalators, which had proved so flammable, and replacing them with fire-resistant metal ones.
In a document titled ‘Consultation on the goal-setting principles for railway safety’ ORR set out safety principles for the rail industry, with one area focusing on structural integrity.
The document pointed out a few factors that would aid in maintaining the structural integrity of trains, like how to continue normal operations and afford effective protection to people and goods carried in the event of an accident.
The main factors to consider are:
- The maximum loads foreseeably arising in normal operations
- The effects of a collision and the crashworthiness of the vehicle
- The structural compatibility of all trains using the route
- The level of containment and containment arrangements of any goods carried and any foreseeable movement that may occur
- The range and compatibility of coupling devices and other inter-train connections
- Compatibility with buffer stops or similar train arrestor devices
- The arrangements for lifting the vehicle for both normal maintenance and emergency situations.
Peter Darling, HM inspector of railways wrote about the importance of ORR inspectors leading by example – and that means putting on full personal protective equipment (PPE) before setting foot on site.
Commuters know that it can be hot on the London Underground network, especially in stations and tunnels. Well, it’s even hotter at night when the trains aren’t running and pushing air through to cool things down a bit, and if you add in the effects of heavy safety boots, goggles, gloves, hard hats, ear defenders and thick trousers and jackets in a lurid bright orange, it can get really sticky down there.
Fully kitted out, ORR inspectors went down into a single bore tunnel to see track maintenance work being carried out near Barons Court Station on the Piccadilly Line. Work on the Underground mainly has to be carried out in five-hour periods when the trains aren’t running, so it was around 2am when the team arrived on site.
The inspectors observed closely while workers broke up concrete so they could prise out the sleepers that hold the rails in place and replace them with a new type of fitting that needs to be cemented in. Water was sprayed over the area to dampen down the silica dust whilst it is broken out, but with the noise and heat, it was a very uncomfortable environment to work in.
The work was done at pace against the clock, but ORR inspectors were there to see that workers’ health and safety was not compromised by the speed and, of course, that the work done meets rigorous safety standards.