The Director General of the HSE eventually replied on the 29th October
Ms Jenny Bacon wrote My comments (with benefit of further information from Railtrack)

Thank you for your letter of 15 October - the first I received from you - about the condition of railway bridge 176 at Witham, Essex.
Eleven weeks after the HSE were first asked to investigate a potential structural failure.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is acting to ensure that Railtrack fulfills its responsibility to maintain its bridges and other structures to an acceptable standard. You wrote to our Railway Inspectorate in August and they immediately sought information from Railtrack on the result of their periodic examinations of this bridge. Railtrack have now informed us that they visually inspected the bridge during October 1997, and again during September 1998, as part of their inspection and maintenance regime. This regime comprises annual bridge inspections with more exhaustive examinations every six years. A full detailed examination is scheduled for June 1999.
"immediately" - Either this is a lie or it shows how little the HSE cared about the result.
"September" - 24th - 6 weeks after writing to the HSE. Two weeks after second letter getting MP involved.
Following the last inspection in September 1998, Railtrack considered that no urgent remedial action was necessary. This was confirmed by structural engineers who visited the bridge at the request of HSE on 23 October.
At last the bridge is declared safe.
Interesting that the HSE asked for a more detailed examination though.
Railtrack has also confirmed that the structure of the bridge is safe for use by the operating railway and poses no threat to the safety of pedestrians.
With evidence of bits of brick falling off the bridge "no threat" is rather a hostage to fortune.
As part of our enquiries one of our inspectors has also visited the site. HSE is satisfied that Railtrack has taken appropriate action on Bridge No. 176. We will continue to monitor Railtrack's management of its infrastructure.
Contradicted by the next letter from Jenny Bacon
I hope this is helpful. .

So it takes six weeks and two letters for the HSE to investigate reports of a cracked bridge.

Remember that until the 24th September nobody had the foggiest idea if this was safe.

On the 7th November I ask if the HSE think this matter has been dealt with correctly
Thank you for your letter of the 29th October. I am sure the people living adjacent to the railway here will be pleased to know that the bridge is safe. However they might be less content with the time that it has taken for the matter to be addressed.

  1. It appears from your letter that Railtrack did not react when told about the crack in January until prompted by yourselves.
    1. Is this correct?
    2. If so, are you happy with this way of operating?
  2. It appears to have taken about a month between when you "immediately sought information" half way through August until Railtrack's inspection "in September".
    1. Is this correct?
    2. If so, are you happy with this delay?
  3. It is curious that you felt the need to commission a structural engineers report, when one would have thought that Railtrack's inspectors should be structural engineers in their own right.
    1. Is it possible to see a copy of the report you commissioned?
    2. In their conclusions, are the engineers simply relying on long experience.? There are still no signs of any instrumentation on the bridge. When making a risk assessment in a situation where the consequences could be very grave I would have expected a proper observation regime based on accurate data collection. Are you happy that ‘seat of the pants' assessment is adequate?
I, and my MP Mr Alan Hurst, are following up this matter because it is rather worrying that a potentially disastrous situation appears to have been ignored by Railtrack and pursued rather leisurely by the HSE.

A letter received from Railtrack on the 20th November reveals...
  • The last detailed examination was June 1993
  • Subsequent annual inspections were visual
  • The inspection of the 24th September was visual
  • Four engineers inspected the bridge on the 23rd at the request of HSE
  • An apology for overlooking the original enquiry

So that's alright then - We ignored a safety warning but we apologise.

Now the HSE starts to show its true colours...
Ms Jenny Bacon wrote My comments

Thank you for your further letter of 9 November about the condition of railway bridge No. 176 at Witham. .
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has no powers to intervene in the way Railtrack PLC deals with complaints from members of the public, unless there is clear evidence that it is not meeting its statutory obligation to maintain the railway infrastructure in a safe manner. I regret that I cannot comment on the manner in which the company dealt with your initial enquiry. As I mentioned in my letter of 29 October, Railtrack had carried out an inspection of the bridge in October 1997 and before HSE's intervention, had scheduled a further visual inspection for September 1998. They subsequently re-inspected the bridge at our request in October. The time-scale of their response appears to have been reasonable.
  • Failure to act on a report of a cracked bridge appears not to be a safety matter!
  • Refuses to comment on neglect - That's cosy.
  • One interpretation of this letter and the RT one is that RT carried out their inspection before intervention by the HSE. ie The HSE did nothing for even longer than six weeks.
  • Six weeks (whoever contributed to the delay) is not reasonable - IT'S A DISGRACE
You also expressed concern at the qualifications of those undertaking the various inspections. This is primarily a matter for Railtrack and, if you should wish to pursue this further, please contact Railtrack East Anglia zone; they will also be able to provide you with a copy of the October report. The Railtrack personnel who inspected the bridge in October are Chartered Engineers with substantial railway engineering experience.
  • It was not the qualifications of the people doing the examining that I asked about, but the adequacy of having a look and a poke in these circumstances.
HSE is satisfied that bridge No 176 is in a safe condition. I am copying this letter and previous correspondence to Mr Alan Hurst MP for his information.
This isn't the main worry.

No comment about ignoring warnings
How many times have 'accidents' happened when warnings were ignored?
Will we never learn? Or is death by Civil Service acceptable

The delay of many weeks "appears to have been reasonable"
This is a scandal comming from the director of the HSE
I wouldn't trust her to run a wool shop

Having commissioned a report, why doesn't the HSE answer questions about the assessment of risk and the appropriatness of the methods used
It is the duty of the HSE to ensure appropriate methods are used
In theory the HSE should now be able to discuss Risk Assessment - But wont

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