Bringing Balance to the Blame

Having regularly lambasted the RMT in general and Bob Crow in particular I probably should balance that out by pointing out that the Network Rail management are an inept bunch of idiots who I wouldn’t trust to open a can of baked beans that was already open, let alone run a railway. As proof I present the NR policy on bridge strikes.

An alarming number of lorry and bus drivers are idiots, hence the problem of bridge strikes (literally someone driving into a bridge) is alarmingly common. For instance this bus driver from Camden;

A bus hitting a bridge

Just in case you have any sympathy with the driver please remember that all such large vehicles are legally required to have a sign in the cab displaying their height and all bridges also show how high they are. Indeed in this case there was actually a sign on the bridge saying ‘Buses use middle of the bridge’, unless the driver couldn’t read he has no excuse.

So it’s a problem and, unlike many of the problems NR worry about, it actually exists. There has therefore been a vast pile of paper and meetings expended on it. Documents, monthly stakeholder meetings, dynamic assessments and endless reports. Crucially for our purpose is the ‘Handbook for Engineers inspecting Bridge Strikes’, a helpful document the engineer has to take on site and refer to.

The first half is jam packed with warnings on how only certain people should do it, how to prove your experience, how to record your competency and generally limiting things so only experts with years of experience are allowed to look at bridges. The document then goes on to treat these expensively trained (and expensive to hire) experts as dribbling idiots, spelling out the obvious with stupid pictures like this;

Why Network Rail are idiots

Apparently you aren’t allowed to reopen a railway if the rails are blocked? Who knew?

This is the symbolic of the real problem at Network Rail; having a very proscriptive system is an acceptable approach, as is relying on a very small pool of experts, but doing both at the same time is a stupid waste of money. If your going to straitjacket your inspectors then use cheap staff, conversely if your going to hire very expensive specialist with decades of experience then bloody well trust them.

This pattern is repeated all the way across the railways, it’s one of the main reasons everything costs so much. People are over-trained for their role and required to spend years proving they can work without supervision and then reduced to following very tightly constrained instructions.

If management just trusted their staff to do their job they could cut out the paperwork and save a fortune in admin and middle management. As that would be like getting turkeys to vote for Christmas I’m not holding my breath on that one.

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