There is a disappointing leader in the Oxford Times this week, with the Editor apparently subscribing to the widely-held idea that “they” must do our thinking for us. It is the job of sensible newspaper editors to try and stem the flow of such nonsense, not to ride it or encourage it.
The context is the unfortunate death of an elderly woman under a train at Tackley Halt. Villagers, says the Oxford Times, had warned Network Rail five years ago of their “real concerns”. Network Rail had applied successfully for planning permission for a tunnel but had decided after a risk assessment that warning signs were sufficient.
The leader writer concludes from this that a death on the crossing is “sad proof that the assessment was wrong”. It might be “might simply be pure luck” that there have been no other fatalities. A “fresh assessment…is needed urgently”.
Bollocks. Risk assessments involve weighing the possibility of accidents against the expense and other factors involved in reducing the risk. The lady’s unfortunate death proves nothing except that she did not, alas, take sufficient care. The idea that it “might simply be good luck” that there have been no accidents is used by Daily Mail scare-mongers, health and safety plonkers and nervous authorities to justify enormous expense which bears no relation to the actual risk. Vast amounts of the money spent by Oxfordshire’s county highways officers each year, for example, is wasted because someone whines of the possibility that there might be an accident and the officers and councillors are too gutless to make proper judgments about real priorities.
The very real risk of whining about the crossing at Tackley Halt and others like it is that Network Rail will simply close it rather than undertake expensive works to meet a small risk. I wonder how much money has been spent on the ugly metal railings which have recently been built along much of that line. The railways managed for over 150 years without them, and every so often someone was hurt or a train was delayed because of trespassing on the line. The money spent on railings could have gone into improving the service, or in dealing with really dangerous things – like the inadequate track works which caused the accidents at Hatfield, Potters Bar or Greyrigg. In those examples, the fate of the dead and injured was entirely in the hands of the railway authorities, with no opportunity for self-reliance. That is where the money should be spent.
People must take some responsibility for themselves. One feels extremely sorry for the lady who went under a train at Tackley, but her death does not justify the whingeing of those who cry unthinkingly that “something must be done”.