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VAB RIP?

Over the past four years, the regulations and standards that govern the assessment of rail  vehicles have progressively changed. Traditional processes based on the accreditation of individuals as technical ‘experts’ (or signatories) have been liberalised to allow a more diverse approach, underpinned by robust management systems. This is paving the way for a more efficient, but equally safe, way of managing engineering change, but is the UK railway industry taking advantage of this?

A change in approach

Before 2010, engineering acceptance by an accredited Vehicle Acceptance Body (VAB) was the mandatory method of confirming that, before they entered service, rail vehicles conformed to UK technical standards. This applied to all types of rolling stock, including passenger, freight and on-track plant and machinery. To establish an industry standard, the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) created and managed the accreditation of VAB organisations and VAB signatories.

However, Group Standard GM/RT2000 changed in 2010, allowing alternative ways to provide certification for rail vehicle acceptance.

The process fundamentally relies on a competent entity assessing vehicle conformance with a prescribed set of standards. Under the interoperability regulations, this is the function performed by a Notified Body (NoBo) or Designated Body (DeBo) making these organisations now ideally suited to operate in the domestic rail vehicle certification market.

Accreditation of organisations to act as NoBos and DeBos (carried out in the UK by United Kingdom Accreditation Service) is based on a competence management system, rather than unique individuals; so is this a more efficient approach? If so, why are VAB signatories still in demand four years later? Why are so many organisations finding it difficult to move on? Is there uncertainty about the robustness of the standards? Are commercial arrangements lagging behind, using outdated service providers? Or is it because the benefits these changes can bring are simply not understood?

Efficiency and added value

Accreditation of certification bodies, based on rigorously tested competence management systems, allows an approach that’s more flexible and equally robust. Having more people with the required competencies distributed between them increases the reliability of service and reduces costs.

The competence management system can be shared across all certification activities, removing requirements to maintain (and accredit) multiple systems. Many believe that the resulting process is cheaper, more sustainable and just as safe.

Independent bodies – particularly those employing a diverse group of people – can also add value in areas such as compliance assessment with project requirements, general fitness for purpose and vehicle reliability.

The Network Certification Body (NCB) fully understands the fundamental role of a conformance assessment body in maintaining the safety of the railway system. While it is possible to use accredited individuals, NCB prefers to use the management system approach, to provide certification across the full range of vehicle types.

Customers need to have these services delivered efficiently. Using its detailed understanding of the regulations, NCB helps customers explore the best options, always recognising that the final decision must rest with the proposer of the change. In addition, in-built flexibility means that extra services can be added as part of a ‘package’, thus reducing the cost of the project overall.

Those interested in discussing these changes will be able to meet the NCB team at Rail Live 2014, being held at Long Marston, Stratford-upon-Avon, on 18/19 June 2014. For more information visit www.raillive2014.com 

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