Supporting Safety Across the Sector

Britain’s railways are amongst the safest in Europe and this has been achieved by a constant focus on risk management and proactively responding to emerging trends. In the freight sector, the National Freight Safety Group (NFSG) is a collective of the main line freight operating companies (FOCs) whose collaborative approach to tackling safety issues has been lauded as industry best practice in recent years.

However, there are numerous other parties involved in freight operations; customers, facility providers and operators such as ports and terminals, rolling stock owners and maintainers and numerous other businesses supporting rail freight. How do these organisations, collectively “Freight End Users” (FEUs), complement the efforts of the wider industry and make sure that they are constantly improving their safety culture and performance?

As a licensed “Micro” Freight Train Operator and a provider of various operational services to this group of stakeholders, Victa Railfreight has worked as a conduit between the FOCs and the FEU community for many years.

We have designed and developed a range of training courses, created a compliance evaluation tool and provided a range of other operational and safety support services that complement the continuous improvement being made in safety, both within the rail freight sector and in the wider industries that we serve.

Building safety awareness

Our Rail Safety Awareness (RSA) courses were introduced in 2014 after various customers raised concerns about the availability of training in this area. British Rail (the nationalised operator of the time) developed Personal Track Safety (PTS) back in the early 1990s to ensure that those staff whose duties didn’t take them on railway infrastructure on a regular basis were adequately educated and protected. After privatisation the PTS training was very much customised to look after the infrastructure maintenance and renewals contractor community, leaving its original aim unfulfilled.

We therefore went “back to basics” and designed a training course that addressed the key risks of working in a rail environment, albeit proportionate to the terminal/yard locations that our customers generally operated, whilst also including the “non-railway” risks of such facilities, such as machine noise, product dust and handling operations. These courses are aimed at educating a variety of roles, from operatives to port police to office administrators, in fact, anyone who may have a rail encounter.

The full-day face-to-face courses for up to 10 candidates comprise an interactive classroom session identifying risks and appropriate mitigations followed by a practical session on suitably protected railway infrastructure where candidates demonstrate their understanding of the training given. Candidates complete both theory and practical assessments and are then certified for a period of two or three years, after which refresher courses are undertaken to ensure that their knowledge is maintained and updated.

The courses are tailored to stakeholder needs; either commodity sector-specific as in our construction customer-focused training or customer-specific, where the risks of a particular location are identified and addressed. Over 4,000 candidates have now received RSA training, with many now into their first or second “refresher” cycles.

Emerging from the RSA was a demand for a more “in-depth” understanding of the risks of running a freight facility from a management perspective and in response, we created our Rail Site Operations Managers (RSOM) courses to explain and address these requirements in more detail. The face-to-face courses discuss a range of risk-focused subject matter in depth and offer real value from the interaction between candidates from other locations or organisations to share experiences and best practise.

Operational competence in the main line railway has become well established with set standards in place and robust Competence Management Systems underpinning consistent delivery of these standards. There are still a significant number of FEUs who are involved in “off mainline” rail operations, typically in such places as quarries, ports or rolling stock maintenance locations. Victa Railfreight works with many of these organisations to develop standards proportionate to the scale of operations and deliver training and assessment packages to the staff involved to ensure a similar level of consistency as is achieved on the main line railway.

Communication underpins advanced safety

Good communication is critical to any sort of process or operation and our Safety Critical Communication courses add great value in this respect by explaining the protocols and language that underpin good person-to-person communication. As well as the obvious benefits of such training in a railway environment, several FEU organisations have requested this for staff involved in non-rail operations, such as cargo handling to reduce accidents and damage to equipment.

In addition to these various training and competence-related services, our experienced team regularly support FEUs who own or control their own infrastructure with practical advice on safety-related matters, particularly around level crossing risk, establishing safe systems of work and regulatory matters.

Having developed these various services it was a natural step to devise a mechanism by which the compliance of FEU’s performance against various legislative and industry standards could be determined. We have therefore developed our Rail Freight Terminal Management (RFTM) evaluation process, styled around the Risk Management Maturity Model (RM3) process pioneered by the Office of Rail and Road, the rail industry regulator over the past ten years.

Whilst RM3 focuses on safety risk, RFTM covers a wider range of activities against which compliance can be assessed for individual terminal locations including management of safety, infrastructure, operations, environmental, access and licensing performance. This interactive process involves the completion of a “self-evaluation” questionnaire which is followed by a site visit by a member of our team to discuss the relevant areas of operation to validate the answers received. A report is then produced “scoring” the performance against key criteria and outlining key areas of risk for which further action is recommended.

As well as the direct benefits of this process, customers report improved staff and management understanding and engagement in key areas of railway operations improving both safety culture and staff motivation in what have traditionally been seen as mundane activities.

The Victa portfolio outlined herein has contributed significantly to improvements in both individual and corporate safety amongst the FEU community to complement the improvements seen in the main line railway.

We are always looking at ways of further enhancing these offerings and suggestions of additional services should be addressed to enquiries@victa-railffreight.com whilst more details of those services described herein can be obtained from pam.smith@victa-railfreight.com.


By Neil Sime, Managing Director, Victa Railfreight