Language and Management Culture

Wednesday, September 16 2009

by the Assistant Itinerant Deputy Editor


RF (right) at the naming of EMT’s refurbished HST power car. Photo EMT.

(Click on picture to read the full story about the naming ceremony on TheRailwayCentre.com.)

Dyspozytor is sufferings from a bout of DUMPS (Down-Up Mood Pumping Syndrome) as the resultant of having attended a really bad presentation at some Polish provincial governor’s office about railway tourism.

Have you noticed how the post-privatisation railway has changed the way it uses language? Railways used to be run on the military management model. Railways had ‘officers’ rather than ‘managers’. Woe betide you if you had an accident. A military man came down from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Railways. His job was to work out who was to blame. Accident reports did not beat about the bush. An accident report into a derailment at Clapham Junction in September 1972 ends, I conclude therefore that the accident resulted from the train being driven past signal W.38 at Danger and for this Driver Orchard must accept full responsibility. Such reports were signed, I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, C. F. Rose, Major

How the world has changed since then! A report into an accident at Birmingham, Moor Street in March 2008 begins with a preamble. The sole purpose of a Railway Accident Investigation Branch investigation is to prevent future accidents and incidents and improve rail safety. The RAIB does not apportion blame, liability or carry out prosecutions. True to its word the report twists the English language into a knot when it states its conclusion, the underlying cause was that Network Rail did not identify the risk to derailment from the development of voids in an area that was only statically measured and implement specific measures to assess and control it. It is tempting to speculate how the good major would have dealt with the matter.

Acronym soup

Another area where language illustrates the collapse of effective management on our railways is the explosive growth of acronyms which give people – who really haven’t got a clue as to what is going on – a spurious authority when they use them to talk to people who have even less of a clue about what is going on. Here are a few of my favourite that I’d like to share with you. The list was inspired by Roger Ford and his TRAC (Topical Railway Acronym Converter. (Yes that’s Roger on the right in the picture above.)

ARSE – Assistant Rolling Stock Engineer
AWG – Adhesion Working Group
CCF – not Combined Cadet Force, but – Control Centre of the Future
CoCoSigTSI – Command, Control & Signalling TSI. The TSI for ERTMS
COSS – Controller of Site Safety
CP – not Communist Party, but – Control Period (The five years for which track access charges are set under an ACR)
DBFT – Design Build Operate and Transfer, not to be confused with
DaFT – Department for Transport
DEMU – Diesel Electric Multiple Unit not to be confused with
FT – Frankenstein Train (designed by DaFT) – Diesel AND Electric MU
DVD – Driver’s Vigilance Device – plays loud rock to keep driver awake
ELL – what the London tube is becoming
ERTMS – ER… This Might Someday work, perhaps

We thought we should bring this list to a close before the letter “F”.



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