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Railway Safety Draft statement from the ITF Railway Workers’ Section

Despite the fact that railways are considered to be one of the safest modes of transport, there have been a number of serious railway accidents across the world since the last Congress in 2010 which have come to the attention of the ITF. The examples include Belgium and Canada in 2013. In Argentina 51 people were killed in a single incident in February 2012, and a further 3 people were killed on the same line in June 2013. Two people were killed in Belgium in May 2013 and in July 2013, 50 were killed or reported missing in Canada, 78 killed in Spain and 6 killed in an incident in the south of Paris. In August, 2013 a train driver was killed in a train accident in Switzerland. Altogether, the ITF has written over 40 messages to the unions in these countries to express our sympathy. It is unprecedented, and has led us to believe that more needs to be done.

For such reasons, the ITF Railway Workers’ Section issues the following statement in conjunction with the 43rd Congress of the ITF in Sofia. It is based on a survey of affiliated unions, discussions at the ITF Railway Section Conference in Toronto (November 2012), and the decision of the Section Steering Committee meetings held in Brussels (July 2013) and Esher (June 2014).

Why safety is important Railway safety has always been an important priority for the ITF RailwayWorkers’ Section. For years the slogan for the ITF RailwayWorkers’ Section Action Day has been ‘Safety First’. This is about keeping the railways as a safe workplace for our members, but also about safety for passengers and the public in general. If not managed properly, there is also a huge potential for damage and death.

The design of the safety systems As with every profession, even the best-trained railway worker can make mistakes. Technical systems should be designed so that they constitute a barrier to human-error. The principle must be that no single human error is able to cause an accident. The higher the traffic density and speed of the train, the more advanced the technical support systems must be. The ‘dead man’s handle’ onboard the locomotive, stopping the train if the driver becomes incapacitated, is well known. In a modern environment this must be supplemented with automatic train protection systems, including speed control preventing the train from passing warning signals and from dangerous speeding. More advanced technical barrier systems does not mean that training levels be reduced.

The train networks are growing and becoming more complex but the ideas of restructuring mostly imply cost savings introducing single driver operations, stations job cuts and outsourcing certain services to non-professional staff.

Proper maintenance of the infrastructure is equally important to ensure safety but far too often we see staff reductions, lengthening of the intervals between inspections and introduction of automated inspection systems with poorer quality - as a substitute to proper inspections carried out by trained employees - in order to save money. It is important that trade unions put pressure on politicians, decision-makers and budget holders who can grant money for new safety- related investments in the infrastructure.

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