Informa Insights, Safety, Standards & Regulation

The global push to improve rail safety | Interview with Carolyn Griffiths, RAIB

Investigating a derailment is a complex, multi-faceted task. No one knows that better than Carolyn Griffiths, who is is Chief Inspector with the Rail Accident and Investigation Branch (RAIB) in the United Kingdom.

Carolyn is a Fellow and elected trustee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineers and a trustee of the Engineering Council. She will be travelling to Australia in April to speak at the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, a key event for the industry.

We sat down with Carolyn in the lead up to the event to talk about her experience and major challenges in her current position.

Carolyn, can you give us some background on your professional path to date?
I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering and joined British Rail’s graduate engineer training program in 1979. I decided to work on the shop floor as a technician and shift supervisor before embarking on junior management positions. By the mid 80’s I was in charge of a rail maintenance depot but left to set up the maintenance activities for the then new Singapore Mass Rapid Transit.  This was the first of a number of jobs where I had the privilege of creating a new organisation. Four years later I again set up a new organisation on my return to the UK when I became the Engineering Director in the development and running or a new light rail system.  Here I broadened my experience to other rail engineering disciplines (signalling, electrification, structures and track) and operations. My next job was working for the government in privatising the railway. This was a completely different type of role involving strategy, policy and legislation. I moved from there in the late 90’s to  join an international rail manufacturer working in both Sweden and Berlin as Senior Vice President before returning again to the UK to my current role , establishing and leading the Rail Accident Investigation Branch an independent organisation, reporting to the Secretary of State for Transport.

What are your major concerns in your current role?
The RAIB has been successful in driving significant changes in the industry to improve safety. My ‘concerns’ are that we continue to identify the investigations and recommendations that will best reduce risks to workers, passengers and the public; and that we maintain and continue to develop the professional skills of my team.  At the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, I will be talking about derailment mechanisms and what we have learned from our investigations (and with reference to those investigations) that is likely to have a broader relevance to those attending the forum.

Where do you think the industry is heading in the future?
The rail industry is expanding throughout the world; there has been huge new developments in the Far East and now in the Middle East. Even in countries which have a longstanding rail industry such as the UK there are enormous investments in the extension and improvement of the railways. In my own particular sector. With specific reference to my current role the number of organisations who have visited us and with whom we work is evidence that more and more railways wish to develop and further professionalise their investigation of accidents.

See Carolyn speak at the Major Rail Occurrences Forum, 28th – 29th April. Other key speakers include:

  • Laurie Wilson, Manager Infrastructure & Engineering, RISSB
  • Alan Gardner Bsc.Eng.Mech, CEO, ESPEE Railroad & ARHS
  • Vernon Hoey, Rail Investigator, Transport Accident Investigation Commission
  • Andrew Matthews, Principal Engineer – Rail, GHD