Thursday, 15 December 2011

Off the rails

This will be interesting. Come the Olympic summer we'll be competing for emergency driving space on the roads with rail engineers.

We claim a legal exemption so that we can drive at speed, cross over red lights and do the 'fun' stuff that the general public think we do just for fits and giggles.

For some reason the police will be asked to either escort or carry rail staff in order to get them to broken down trains or trackside emergencies necessitating 'surgery' or something. Now, if the police are carrying these individuals then at least there will be a professionally trained and highly experienced emergency driver at the wheel. But if they escort another vehicle; one with a rail engineer driver in charge, aren't we looking at a potentially very dangerous situation?

And where is the legal exemption? If we have an accident during a blue light journey, we will be expected to justify our driving. If we are found to have been driving recklessly, then we face the same punishments as every other driver. Technically, even crossing a red light is still illegal and we must 'give way', not just barge through at 50mph. This is why drivers are not legally obliged to get out of our way; it's still a courtesy, unless they are deliberately obstructing us.

So, if a police vehicle collides with another vehicle, or a pedestrian, and someone is killed... or the rail engineer's vehicle crashes, with similar consequences, what will be the reason given for the accidental death of an innocent? Was another life at risk? Was the journey necessary at such speed for the sake of the health and future quality of life of an very sick person? Not really; the journey will have been deemed important for the sake of convenience to rail passengers during a high profile event. It will keep our transport system running 'smoothly' (and that is a contradictory term anyway).

It's all well and good to introduce so-called emergency status to rail engineers for the sake of public image (well it must be because they don't do this at any other time) but I think I'd find it easier to swallow if gas engineers, or the big motoring organisations were allowed to travel on blue lights instead. After all, people die when gas escapes and there's potential for death and injury on the road when you're stranded, right?

And while I'm at it, why not give the RSPCA and every Vet in the country a blue light and siren? Are animals not important enough to deserve our immediate attention?



Caroline84 said...

It's funny you should write about the subject of who gets emergency service status, as I signed a petition last night on the HM website to try and get emergency service status for the ambulance service.

I wasn't aware until a friend educated me that the ambulance service is currently classed as an "essential service" and not an emergency service. The purpose of the petition is to grant employees of the ambulance service the same entitlements and benefits available to emergency service workers such as police officers and fire fighters.

I am appalled to read on your post that emergency service status will be granted to rail workers for the sake of keeping up appearances during the Olympic Games, when the ambulance service has been overlooked and for want of a better word, neglected when it comes to recognition of the hard work employees such as yourself put in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Maybe a petition should be set up to protest against rail workers being allowed to risk their and the public's lives for such an invalid reason.

Mjolinir said...

A 'drunk' with (LAS?) Paramedics features on the front page of 'The People' - 18 Dec

"Other drunks, locations & service providers are available - see the the rest of the article"

Fairly good write up?

Anonymous said...

From what I read elsewhere, its not all rail engineers, just a specific group - the ones that attend "one unders" to lift the train and also deal with derailments

Sewmouse said...

Over here it is illegal to NOT pull-over and allow emergency vehicles on lights & sirens to have the right-of-way. Since people's lives are at stake, I do not mind this law - in fact, I prefer it this way.

I think of it as "Someday, that could be me - and I'd want help immediately, not when some bozo decides it is convenient for him to move his soccer-mom-mobile."

JR said...

There was another article about this in the Standard today. Apparently this project is not limited to the olympics but is being tested with a view to making it permanent (first bit of common sense).

As far as I can tell, the scheme involves engineers and their kit being carried in vehicles owned by BTP and driven by their officers. They will only be tasked to serious incidents such as one-unders and stranded trains; essentially anything where life is at risk. I presume if the scheme proves successful, those who run it may invest in suitable vehicles and train their own staff to drive them.

Whilst I agree that having vehicles driving under emergency conditions presents a risk to the occupants and other road users surely getting specialist skills and equipment to situations is a justifiable risk. If the scheme was purely about getting the network running so that someone can go and watch someone else running around then fair enough; that's unacceptable however this seems a bit more sensible. There is already, arguably, a precedent for it. The Coast Guard is permitted to use blue lights to reach calls. A large part of their role involves providing the skills and equipment to access casualties - rather like lifting a tube train off of a patient!

As I say, the wholesale issuing of blue lights to anyone fulfilling a vaguely public function seems stupid. Especially as other drivers will become immune and start ignoring them. However, as long as no corners are cut, there does seem to be a point here.

Incidentally, the way the article is worded suggests that these response teams are already in operation. Have you had a chance to work with them and, if so, did their speedy attendance make a difference? (Not an attempt at cross-examination, just curiosity!)


Xf said...


Whilst I agree with the sentiment that essential equipment (to save lives) should get to where the incident is as soon as possible, there is still the tricky legal problem of exemption. At the moment only those services currently recognised as having an emergency role can use blue lights and bend/break road traffic laws for a justifiable reason. Bear in mind that doctors cannot use blue lights and they too are possibly saving lives in the course of their on-call duties.

The scheme is not yet running as far as I know and I haven't seen the effects yet. I just wonder if the remit has been changed because the initial story about this clearly states that the service will run 'to keep transport running smoothly during the olympics'. That is NOT a good reason to put pedestrian and driver lives at risk.

Terry said...

The engineers in question have had their trucks (roughly the same size as a Fire Engine) painted in the BTP livery with blue lights. They'll be driven by trained Police officers instead of the engineers themselves.