Safety at the heart of efficient railway transport

Friday, February 28th, 2020 00:00 |
SGR train at Mombasa terminus. Photo/Courtesy

Victor Gichuru 

Railways have come a long way from the slow, noisy, air-polluting mode of transport to modern carriers that offer speed, comfort, convenience and enhanced safety. 

This transformation is largely driven by incorporation of many modern innovations into the infrastructure, rolling stock and operations comprising advanced computing on-board and track side, high-speed communications, energy efficient traction systems and new track materials.

These evolutionary changes have rendered trains a highly attractive mode of transportation in today’s world, and which calls for world class safety standards. 

There is no denying that safety on and in the vicinity of the railways is of importance—safety of passengers, crew members, stations and tracks and residents in the vicinity of the railways.

Railway safety has always attracted a great deal of political and social interest. It is not an issue that solely concerns the authorities, but must be addressed in cooperation with the various stakeholders, each on the basis of their specific role and responsibility.

For this reason, the railway sector, the government, other organisations affiliated with the railways have for long appreciated the need for structural attention to the improvements in railway safety.  

In Kenya, Africa Star Railway Operation Company (Afristar), has just marked 1,000 Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) Safety Days.

The company has operated Kenya’s SGR safely for 1,000 days as February 24, 2020. It is noteworthy that the company gives prominence to safety, which is also enshrined in its mission and core values.

The company has inculcated a railway safety culture among staff through evaluation of employee adherence to safety regulations and procedures and rewarding safety champions quarterly and annually.

So far, 10 employees have been recognised as ‘safety champions” and another 27 awarded certificates for emerging winners in the Afristar Technical Skills competitions among SGR staff members. 

Safety culture can generally be described as “what the organisation does” with respect to safety.

It encompasses the values, beliefs, and attitudes held within the organisation that guide the way people behave in the workplace.

While a direct link between culture and safety can be difficult to demonstrate, it is reasonable to expect that a negative safety culture can lead to practices that increase the risk of accidents.

Indeed, weak safety culture has been implicated in several serious organisational accidents worldwide. 

As part of its commitment to safety, Afristar had by December 31, 2019 implemented 267 policies, rules and regulations.

And to ensure passengers are sensitised on fostering a safety culture while aboard SGR trains, safety notices have been put inside the trains to ensure both the crew and passengers are not in harm’s way.  

To monitor compliance of train safety features, the firm has created a department run by railway safety specialists who are responsible for safety supervision and inspection.

As of February 24, they had inspected the entire SGR operations network 269 times. The company focuses on all aspects of SGR safety, including safety for passengers and freight trains on transit, occupational safety, as well as safety of communities and wildlife along the SGR line.  

Effective risk control is essential in customer-focused railway services. In 2019, Afristar found 188 standard risks and 5 serious risks.

As a result, 193 risk control and prevention measures and methods were created and implemented.   Ultimately, everyone has an expectation that they will be safe while aboard SGR trains.  — The author is a Communications Advisor, Afristar 

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