Office of Rail and Road February 2024 newsletter

2 February 2024
Liz Thornhill
Liz Thornhill
General Counsel, ORR
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Hello and welcome to the ORR February newsletter.  

At the end of last year we saw the conclusion of the Judicial Review by West Coast Railway Company  (WCRC) against our decision not to grant it an exemption from Regulation 5 of the Railway Safety Regulations 1999 (“the Regulations”). The judge found firmly in favour of ORR on all grounds.  

In January, as we had previously undertaken to do, we revoked the short term exemption we had made for WCRC whilst we had been awaiting the Judicial Review outcome. We are always conscious of ensuring we take a proportionate response in regulation, with a commitment to safety.

The conclusion of the WCRC case was just one of the legal cases we worked on throughout 2023. With the ability to bring prosecutions, our focus is on ensuring that passengers, the general public and workers’ safety is protected.

Perhaps the most high profile case that concluded last year was our prosecution of TfL, Tram Operations Limited and the tram driver following the Sandilands tram accident. The driver was found not guilty following trial but both companies pleaded guilty and were fined, and the case as a whole has led to valuable learning for the tram sector.

As well as protecting members of the public we are committed to worker safety, and successfully concluded prosecutions around electrical lines, working at height, and following a crush fatality.  

Each of these prosecutions follow detailed safety investigations and then preparation by our legal team. We continue to work on several investigations this year, and will bring more prosecutions, to ensure that all duty holders are aware of their responsibilities and are carrying them out.

January also saw us continuing our licence Investigation into Network Rail’s Wales and Western region. addition, our authorisations work continued, with important elements of University Station Birmingham gaining approval.

Liz Thornhill

General Counsel, ORR

Top Stories

Updating Parliamentarians about ORR's work

ORR held a well-attended parliamentary drop in at the end of January to enable MPs, Peers and others to discuss the breadth of our work and raise any concerns that they or their constituents may have. Staff from across ORR’s work attended and a number of very useful discussions were held.

ORR Director of Communications, Russell Grossman said: “We hold these events on an occasional basis to meet parliamentarians and listen to their issues, as well of course as giving them helpful information for their work in Parliament and to take back to their constituents.”

Approval given for enhancements at University station, Birmingham, to open

We have authorised two new station buildings and other significant enhancements at University railway station in Birmingham, allowing them to enter into service. Linking the two new station buildings is an accessible rail link bridge, and there are new signage, lighting, CCTV and other systems throughout. 

We have worked with the funders, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) from the outset of the project to guide them through the authorisation process, ensuring that important checks and surveys are carried out. Our authorisation is an important step in improving rail connectivity and the passenger experience, improving access to the University of Birmingham and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Spotlight on... ORR’s new Deputy Director of Strategic Road Network, Rachel Gittens

Rachel joined our deputy director team in January heading up our team regulating National Highways – an organisation she came from as the head of future roads investment strategy.  Previously to that Rachel spent 14 years at Arup, having graduated in Engineering Science at Oxford.

Could you tell us a little bit about your experience before taking the role as Deputy Director of Strategic Road Network?

Of course! I’m a proud chartered civil engineer whose has worked across a variety of things over the last 19 years. I worked at Arup for 14 years where I designed and delivered large complex infrastructure projects and then transferred my knowledge to provide advice to highways and rail infrastructure owners on a variety of asset management aspects from developing and scrutinising business plans and regulatory and business transformation.   I joined ORR in January from National Highways where I was Head of Future Roads Investment Strategy for just over 4 years. 

What will your focus be in your new role?

I’ve joined at an extremely critical time as the draft Roads Investment Strategy setting out the aspirations for the network road period (2025-2030) is due imminently. This will start our work in reviewing National Highways’ draft Strategic Business Plan, to advise the Secretary of State if it is challenging yet deliverable with the resources available. We are also heading into the last year of the Road Period 2 and so need to keep our focus on making sure that National Highways are doing all that they can to delivery their current commitments to government in the best way for public funds.

Alongside the day-to-day work I want to focus on continuing to grow and strengthen our relationship across all our stakeholders. I want to demonstrate more widely the good work and value that ORR bring, working alongside National Highways, DfT and Transport Focus, to provide confidence to the public that the investment on the Strategic Road Network is focusing on the right priorities in the most efficient and effective way.

How has your past experience shaped the way that you approach things now?

I’ve been really lucky that I have been able to work across such a large remit during my career to date. I still draw a lot from my background in designing and delivering projects, how you solve complex problems, balance risk, experiencing the realities of a real-world construction site and working with a diverse group of people. Moving to being an infrastructure owner then brought another facet alongside that, and new challenges. 

I like to know that I can draw on my experience, that I’ve been there and done that, and that I’m able to bring in other people’s views and learnings.  I feel like I’m a translator a lot of the time. I need to take complex technical information and disseminate it quickly down to key points to ensure the right discussion is had at the right point and that the impact is to ultimately realise the best solution for all.

When you’re not at work, what keeps you busy?

Most of my time outside work is running around after my family! I’m lucky that Warwickshire is on our doorstep and so we do a lot of walking looking for geocaches with our daft dog. I’m also a big musical theatre fan so try to catch a show whenever I can.


ORR’s 2023 Authorisations wrapped

In this blog, we look back over the authorisations we have given to 11 new and improved stations across Great Britain in 2023. The blog follows a recent episode of our podcast in which Cherry Lam, one of ORR’s civil engineers who works on authorisations, spoke about the role ORR plays in getting stations ready to open.