The Decider’s Dilemma

railway-stationIn his October 11 post, Gregory introduced the trolly problem and asked whether it is ethical to not take action when by doing so you could save a life. It is a tricky problem, a real ethical dilemma which is why the trolly problem has lasted so long in the literature.  It might seem that as advisors on asset decisions we are never in such a dire life-or-death decision, yet is this really so?  Consider the Railway Signalling Project.

The signalling system was part of a larger redevelopment of the railway station and had taken many years to design and develop and to pass all the various hurdles that such large scale public developments require.  It had also languished a long while with the cabinet sub-committee entrusted with making such decisions. Now, during this time it had become perfectly obvious to all the departmental protagonists that there was a far better signalling system now available, one that would be cheaper, easier to install and maintain and far more reliable.  The question was:  Do we issue an amendment to the original design to take account of this new development which would invitably slow the already lengthy procedure even more, but would save considerable money and, quite possibly, lives because of the greater reliability of the new system?. The ease of installation of the new system would allow us to recoup some of the extra planning time involved. Or, now that we are so close to the finish line and have spent so very much time in deliberation already, do we simply run with the inferior system and say nothing?

The organisation chose the latter course of action and the railways thus ended up with a more costly and worse performing system than it could have had.

Question:  Were they right to have done so?  What would you have done?

One Thought on “The Decider’s Dilemma

  1. Patrick Whelan on October 22, 2016 at 8:14 pm said:

    Definitely wrong. All public servants have a duty to their employer to minimise costs and a duty to the users of the system to ensure safety and efficiency. By failing to issue the amendment (which must have been acceptable to the Cabinet Committee), the decision makers failed on both fronts. They should be held accountable.

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