An open letter to the Fat Controller

Dear Sir Topham Hat,

I am writing to you as an experienced GRC consultant who was watching a documentary, with my two sons, about your Sodor railway.

The number of accidents, delays and confusion is unusually high for the size of your network. The very fact that you have your own well equipt often used rescue centre, should have alarmed you to the level of risk you are tolerating on your rail network.

Based on my experience there are some steps you can take to better govern and manage your railway.

Implement a loss event register and start recording the incidents. I watched several episodes of your documentary featuring the same derailing of cargo trucks due to heavy shunting. While I imagine the program edits much of the footage taken, no mention was ever made of accident books or incident postmortems. By understanding the incidents better you could implement new controls and policy to reduce incidents.

Write good policy, communicate and train your employees. A number of your engines and drivers are unaware of very fundamental railway safety concepts. Signals, crossings and speed restrictions are regularly ignored and often the underlying cause of resulting incidents. I watched one train literally pushing another past its safe limits, apart from a verbal warning the train and driver were not disciplined further.

Implementing a risk and control register would help recognise the risks the railway is exposed to and the mitigating steps which have been implemented. The issues with extreme weather particularly around Christmas could be better mitigated by reducing services around this time. It seems during this time that there are a lot of trains and other equipment sent out unnecessarily in these conditions which get stuck and need to be rescued.

Create a log of assets. During one episode it became apparent that a train “Hiro” has been abandoned in a siding due to age. I understand this engine was brought back into service which was fortunate. The concern is that this engine (a £3-4m asset) was never properly taken out of service. The asset was just left to depreciate with no consideration for the environmental or health and safety implications of leaving a train in a siding. A log of assets and processes would ensure the life cycle of assets is followed and not allow items to be dumped.

I hope the above gives you some ideas for how you might make some improvements and do look forward to future updates of your documentary.

Best Regards,


Alex Hollis

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