Safety Rule Threat to Heritage Railways
14 February 2006
New safety regulations relating to safety inspections, arising from the UK Health & Safety Executive's interpretation of an EU directive, could land heritage railways such as the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway with huge costs. The 'one size fits all' regulations - while perhaps appropriate to the national railway networks of Europe - would impose a significant and unnecessary burden on railways such as ours.
For the last 140 years, approval of New Works, such as extensions and major changes to signalling and vehicles, has been done by HM Railway Inspectorate but the Health and Safety Executive, in its interpretation of the EU directive, would require heritage railways to employ one or more ‘independent competent persons’ themselves, at considerable cost - which could be over £200 per hour. This would place intolerable financial pressure on heritage railways and, if approved, would affect development plans such as our northward extension from Toddington to Broadway. It could even force newer railways to close.
Bill Hillier, Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway Plc Company Secretary and a director of the Heritage Railway Association (the trade body representing the heritage railway movement and of which the GWSR is a member), says: "The UK Government has the right to exempt heritage railways from the EU directive and it seems that the HSE is hiding behind the directive, when it could easily sort this out themselves.
"The change of rules is unnecessary. The Railway Inspectorate still have to be familiar with the operation of heritage railways to carry out their inspections role. The best solution would be to leave the 1994 Railways and Other Transport Systems (Safety) regulations in place and not replace them; if this is too much for the HSE then it would be better if this whole matter was deferred until control of the Inspectorate passes from the HSE to the Office of the Rail Regulator at the beginning of April."
The HRA is lobbying hard to obtain the appropriate derogation from the new directive. David Morgan, chairman of the HRA, said in a Daily Telegraph interview: "Many of us feel that nothing would make safety authorities happier than to see us all closed down. The safest railway must be one on which a train never moves."
We must press the Minister to delay approving the regulations until he has met with the HRA directors to resolve this crucial issue.