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Standard designs of safety fencing aren't always appropriate



The release of Gary Hart from prison and a recent TV drama documentary have revived questions as to the reasons for the Selby rail accident, in which a vehicle left the M62 and ended up on the East Coast main railway line.

In particular, how was it possible for the vehicle to avoid the safety fencing specifically provided to prevent such an accident occurring?

It appears that the requisite length of fencing was in place according to national design standards.

But may I suggest once more that the problem with standards is that 'one size fits all' is not always the appropriate answer.

I have been involved throughout my career with the design and construction of motorways and other major road schemes in this country and abroad and I became aware of potential weaknesses in some of the criteria used in the design process many years ago.

In a nutshell, the rush to standardise drawings, bills of quantities, specifications, conditions of contract and so on was actually discouraging the designer from looking into areas where special measures might be required.

In my opinion not enough attention was paid to the relationship between factors of safety and the consequence of failure.

For example, where an overbridge crosses a high-speed, heavily-trafficked road or railway, there should be a great deal more scope within the design process to permit reasonable professional judgement to over-ride the published criteria.

In this way we would be far less likely to encounter the well-established British malaise of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

J P Slaney, MSc CEng MICE Matlock Derbyshire