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TSSA Raises Concerns Over Rail Safety & Reliability In Wales

4 December 2019

TSSA has raised concerns about Network Rail plans to change the monitoring and management of its many ageing railway structures across Wales - including bridges, tunnels, coastal defences.

 The union believes the plans will seriously jeopardise the safety of the travelling public and rail staff – while also impacting on the reliability of rail services in Wales.

The union has written to the First Minister of Wales, CEO of Network Rail and Office of Rail and Road regarding plans by Network Rail (NR) Wales to break up contracts relating to managing structures to ensure the safe running of Wales’s railways.

In the rest of Britain, these Civil Engineering Framework Agreement (CEFA) contacts have been extended for two years (to 31st March 2021). However, in Wales they are going back out to tender – with changes to the current arrangements due to begin in March 2020.

Amey currently holds the principal CEFA contact in Wales, providing competent and multi-skilled Examiners and Surveyors to undertake planned and emergency inspections of various rail structures.

TSSA understands that the existing contract has been broken up into eight ‘lots’, with contractors only allowed to cover a maximum of three.

Examiners currently inspect all relevant structures on most planned visits to a particular location. The union believes that fragmenting this inspection regime is likely to result in much higher costs as examiners walk past bridges to inspect tunnels or walk past retaining walls to inspect coastal defences. Either that, or inspections will be much more infrequent.

TSSA General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: “As was shown recently in Italy where a motorway bridge literally fell down whilst traffic was using it, the consequences of failing to properly monitor and manage railway structures have the potential to be catastrophic. The safety of passengers and rail staff must be put first.”

NOTES

Elsewhere, contracts (CP5 – Control Period 5) have been extended for two years to 31st March 2021. Notably however, the Wales Route is being re-tendered with changes due to be implemented from 31 March 2020.

The current contracts govern and require competent Examiners and Surveyors to undertake planned and emergency inspections of the various rail assets to ensure that they are in a sufficiently stable and adequate condition for the railway to operate safely.

Planning, competency and resource management are the responsibility of the contractor, with multi-skilled examiners typically conducting detailed or visual examinations on a variety of adjacent structures within a working day.

We understand that the proposed tendering process restricts potential contractors to a maximum of three of eight separate “lots” as follows:

Earthworks
OPI
Bridges
Culverts
Retaining walls
Tunnels
Underwater
Coastal defence

Potential non-compliance

The contractor, Amey, is obliged to undertake the strategic planning for next year’s structures workbank. We understand that due to proposals to break up the contract, Network Rail have not provided Amey with the detail required to complete this exercise. This poses the real threat that whoever is undertaking structures examinations in Wales next year will start with no plan. Therefore, structures will become non-compliant against the mandated standards. This will become visible to the ORR. This has in our view serious safety implications as NR will not be able to provide assurance on the examination regime.

Staff Competence

By ‘carving up’ the structures workbank into six lots it is difficult to see how examiners will retain their competence as STE04 Structures Examiners. To retain their competence the examiners need to examine a range of structure types. TSSA understands that separating culverts, retaining walls, sea defences, bridges and tunnels will challenge the ability to train and mentor trainee examiners on the variety of structure types required to attain competencies, and for STE04 examiners to maintain the competencies required to continue to assess structures. Experience has shown that once lost, competent examiners are hard to recruit and training can only be provided where employers have access to a range of structures, mentors and training resources. All other Amey and Network Rail STE04 examiners will continue to examine a range of structure types.

Value for Money

By fragmenting the structures into lots with a maximum of three per contractor, examiners will ignore structures that fall under the remit of other contractors instead of efficiently planning examinations to take in multiple adjacent structures. For example, bridge examiners may walk past several culverts and retaining walls to get to bridges that they need to examine, resulting in considerable inefficiencies and duplication. This will clearly undermine taxpayer value for money and the concept of ‘putting passengers first’.

Existing practices examiners and surveyors working across multiple routes, to deliver value for money for Network Rail, will be lost with adopting this strategy, while the economies of scale provided by resource and competency management and planning for multifunctional examiners and surveyors will be lost.

Job Security

We understand that Network Rail have already suggested that some Amey CEFA, OPI and Earthworks staff based in Wales would not be protected by the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings, Protection of Employment) regulations due to the fragmentation of the work. We believe that the only potential cost saving achieved through the break up would be by cutting our members terms and conditions of employment. For example, it would enable unscrupulous bidders to take on contracts but leave employees behind, attempting to force a redundancy situation that could be exploited by the new contractor’s ability to offer employment on inferior terms and reduced wages without any protection of basic employment rights.

We suspect that this move is a cynical attempt to attack members by undermining their right to follow their work, and we will have to consider action to protect their terms and conditions and job security.

By fragmenting the workbank into lots, there a also a risk that the those who support the front line staff (planning team, reviewing engineers, competence management, commercial staff) will be put at risk.

Threatening rail staff and public safety

Obviously, the purpose of the examinations and survey regimes is to ultimately to ensure the structural integrity of Britain’s railways in order to protect the travelling public. In Wales in particular, there has often been little in the way of investment, and the condition of many of these very old structures is relatively poor.

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