Risk and safety intelligence graduate Michael Moore met Keith Valla, train driver manager.

keith valla and michael moore

Above: Keith Valla (left) and Michael Moore (right)

I recently rode the cab of an Elizabeth line train from Liverpool Street to Heathrow during my CIRAS graduate placement. The goal was understanding the challenges of frontline staff, who keep the railway operating smoothly, and we also spread the word about CIRAS.

MTR Elizabeth Line’s Keith Valla showed us the complexities in driving a train, and the skill and dedication it takes. ‘It’s a very high safety culture,’ he said. ‘We carry a lot of passengers compared to other train companies, so we’ve got to be always on top of our game. With safety and performance, if you get one right, the other comes with it.’

MM: What kind of concerns do you hear about?

Keith: Our biggest safety issue is trips and falls. We have long escalators. And when people are carrying big bags, they can drop them down escalators or off the side of the train. In big stations like Paddington, we have staff at the top of escalators directing people with heavy bags to the lift. The platform-train interface is a concern. Stratford station is very busy at evening peak. We have staff all along the platform so they can help people when the train comes in and keep them away from the edge.

MM: Tell me about your open safety culture. 

Keith: We don’t have a blame culture, and we have an open-door policy. If something happens, we ask what we can learn. If someone made a mistake, can we prevent someone else making it too? If a driver sees a safety line incident, they can take a picture with our app to get it sorted. We do regular health and safety walkarounds between union and management. We got a physiotherapist in for a driver. That costs us money, but also saves us money because the driver is back in work. Health and safety are interlinked. It’s not just for people on the platform, it’s our physical and mental health too.

MM: Do you see CIRAS as a good thing? 

Keith: Definitely. All the drivers are aware of it. We highlight it. I think it shows how open we are and will listen to anything that comes our way.

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