Promoting the best in rail safety

Rail Safety Week steering group Chair SIMON HIGGENS tells ANDY RODEN why the industry must celebrate its safety successes – and push hard for further improvements.

Steering safety: RSW Steering Group Chair (and vice-chair of Rail Forum) Simon Higgens at the launch of 2023’s event.
Courtesy Rail Safety Week
Ministerial endorsement: Rail Minister Huw Merriman and Rail Forum Chair Elaine Clark.
Courtesy Rail Safety Week

‘You already know a lot about the railway – it’s a manpower intensive, heavy machinery, dangerous environment’ Story Contracting Business Development Director Simon Higgens was told shortly after he joined the industry.

A veteran of the Royal Engineers, in which he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was deployed on operations around the world, Mr Higgens immediately realised the truth in longstanding railwayman Andy Musgrave’s remark – and that the railway, just like the army, takes the safety of its staff in a demanding sector very seriously.

Twelve years on, he is now Vice-Chair of the Rail Forum and the chair of the Rail Safety Week steering group. The event is in its ninth year, and runs from 24-30 June, aiming to highlight areas of safety improvement in the rail industry. The brainchild of Alan Tarrant, since 2023, RSW has been run by the Rail Forum. Mr Higgens’ involvement is, in part, down to Story – still a family run company – which encourages its staff to take on extracurricular activities, and he was initially asked to champion RSW and then chair the steering group.

‘It looks at all aspects of heavy and light rail, metro, freight, train operators, staff, passengers and neighbours of the railway – all of whom have a clear interest in the railway being as safe as possible’says Mr Higgens.

He adds that it is important the railway celebrates what it has achieved in relation to safety, but also that Rail Safety Week should act as a reminder that there are always further improvements that can be made.

‘Rail is a dangerous environment, and we should be doing everything possible to prevent every single injury –and if Rail Safety Week prevents just one, then the effort is worth it.’

The event’s headline sponsor is Kier, and its steering group includes representatives from Network Rail, Transport forWales, LNER, Community Rail Network, Fission Rail and the

Light Rail Safety and Standards Board, in addition to Story. Supporting organisations span the whole sector, from large multinationals and government bodies to SMEs, all seeking to boost their safety records and share best practice with others.

However, although approaching 150 bodies are supporting RSW, that isn’t enough for Mr Higgens (although they demonstrate the depth and breadth of support): ‘We’re asking people to tell us about what they’re doing on safety, and we’ll shout it out to the wider world. Everyone is doing the sort of safety initiatives we want to highlight anyway, and we want the RSW teams to be inundated with them.’

For all his passion and enthusiasm for improving safety, Mr Higgens acknowledges that in a perfect world the event shouldn’t be needed. Nonetheless, it has become an important entry in industry calendars, and its lessons increasingly incorporated into industry thinking.

Beyond the railway boundaries, there are other areas where an important difference can be made to safety: ‘Educating children about the dangers of the railway is vital’ says Mr Higgens, who points out there is also a chance to teach them about the benefits of rail and the career opportunities in it. Lineside neighbours – those with homes or businesses next to the railway – are also an obvious audience to engage with: every improvement to safety in these areas, no matter how small, is potentially an injury or fatality averted.

‘Safety is a function of leadership’ he concludes.‘We need leaders at all levels to lead and demonstrate the importance of safety. If people on the railway can see that safety is important from the very top, that influence will flow through an organisation and beyond.’

With a series of events already announced and with high-profile support (see panels) from the very top of the railway, the hope is that a railway which is demonstrably safer than a generation ago can improve even more.

■ Rail Safety Week is holding a children’s colouring competition

Safer kids: RSW’s colouring competition.

(see photo above), supported by Modern Railways. Print subscribers have received a copy with their issue, and it is available to download and print at


‘In 2025 we will be celebrating 200 years since the first passenger railway opened in Britain – a truly revolutionary moment.

In the intervening 200 years we have made huge strides, immense progress, contributed hundreds of billions of pounds to the economy and carried many billions of passengers and tons of freight. As striking as all of those numbers are, the impressive steps we’ve made have been on safety.

‘Today, Britain’s railway is one of the safest means of public transport in the world, something we should be immensely proud of and something we should treasure.Treasure, because any such accolade is fragile.

‘Every day there is risk on the network. Some 100,000 people working in hazardous environments, operating tens of thousands of trains, transporting millions of passengers, and the safe management and upkeep of 20,000 miles of track, structures and earthworks – it’s a hugely complex and challenging environment.

‘This is why Rail Safety Week matters so much to me. It is a genuine moment for our industry to pause, reflect on the improvements we have collectively made, but to also take stock on where we need to do better.

‘We are not infallible as a system, we have made mistakes in the past and I know we will make mistakes in the future. However, being open and honest and embedding real learning is something we should all strive for.

‘Rail Safety Week exists to be that vehicle to drive real change. A highly collaborative space to listen, learn and take action to keep our people and our passengers safe.

‘For me, it is a key date in our industry calendar, and I am really looking forward to seeing 2024’s activities. A big thank you to everyone involved in shaping this year’s Rail Safety Week.’ Andrew Haines, Chief Executive, Network Rail


‘Safety is our licence to operate. It’s our number one priority embedded in everything we do. Our focus is always on controlling hazards and limiting the risk of anyone being injured by our works.

‘Promoting behavioural safety across our sites is a continuous approach and we implement initiatives to keep our people safe, such as our five health and safety (which we call SHE) basics. They are designed to ensure work never starts without the appropriate controls and systems in place. Our blue hat policy identifies people on site who are less experienced and may need additional support.

‘At Kier, we believe everyone should expect respect, which in turn supports our workforce feeling psychologically safe and able to speak up. We regularly promote our confidential Speak Up helpline and we always encourage the positive benefits of raising near misses so we can continue to learn lessons and see what more we can do.

‘While our focus is on what we can control to keep our people safe, we can’t control the actions of people outside of our workforce and workplace. And this is why we chose to sponsor Rail Safety Week. Dedicated events like this give us an opportunity to focus on specific safety behaviours to a wider audience.

‘For this week-long event, we’ll be spending the time engaging with schools local to our projects. As a supporter of the Rail Safe Friendly Initiative, we believe it’s important to promote rail safety and safe behaviours to children as young as possible.’ Mandy Duncan, Managing Director, Rail & Aviation, Kier Transportation To find out more about Kier, visit