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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Rail Safety

The safety of the rail network depends (among other things) on our being able to trust in the rail maintenance process, and in those firms engaged in this process.

From this perspective (and not only this perspective) the history of the UK rail industry is seriously troubling.


What's wrong with Jarvis? What's wrong with Network Rail?

originally posted October 23rd, 2003


Three public events in close succession. The precise connections between these events have not been made public, but we can make some intelligent assumptions.

  • The UK engineering firm Jarvis pulls out of the rail maintenance business.
  • Jarvis is accused of falsifying records relating to rail maintenance contracts.
  • Network Rail announces that all rail maintenance, previously outsourced to several engineering firms including Jarvis, will now be carried out inhouse.

One thing that stands out strongly is the relationship between safety and trust. The safety of the rail network depends (among other things) on our being able to trust in the rail maintenance process, and in those firms engaged in this process.

The allegations against Jarvis lead to a reduction in perceived trustworthiness - not just of Jarvis but of the whole industry. Even if the allegations are unfounded, and even if it is grossly unfair to paint all engineering firms with the same brush, trust has been damaged.

One of the most important lessons from this affair is that safety-critical engineering cannot be regarded as purely a technical matter, but requires attention to commercial / socioeconomic factors and stakeholder issues.

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