Passenger train passes signal set to Stop

Figure 2: Signal sighting at approximately 100m and 30m to GH19 and GH23. Source: ARTC. Annotated by ATSB.

Three people sustained minor injuries when an Xplorer passenger train entered a siding loop at twice the maximum track speed after the train passed a signal set to ‘Stop’.

The two-car Xplorer NP43 passenger service was operating between Werris Creek and Moree, New South Wales, on the afternoon of 10 June 2019. Shortly after departing Gunnedah, the train passed a signal set to ‘Caution’ – which indicated the next signal could be at ‘Stop’.

The driver, however, did not see the signal, and so he proceeded as normal. Later, the driver would report that he knew the location of the signal, but he had never seen it with a ‘Caution’ indication in the previous 12 years, which likely influenced his continuing at track speed.

By the time the driver saw the next signal and realised that it was set to ‘Stop’, there was insufficient distance to stop the train before crossing the points that would transition the train into the Whitehaven Coal Loop. 

If safe sighting distance is reduced due to environmental factors, it is important to reduce speed and be prepared to stop.

The driver initiated an emergency brake application, but the train entered the Whitehave Coal Loop siding at approximately 110km/h. The increased lateral forces as a result of the train traversing the points in excess of the maximum track speed of 50km/h, resulted in the three injuries, where a passenger and a member of the crew were struck by flying objects, while another crew member was thrown from their seat, striking their head.

The train stopped approximately 400m into the coal loop.

The late running of the train service and time of the year meant the sun was lower than the driver was expecting or reportedly had previously seen, an investigation into the incident, conducted on behalf of the ATSB by NSW’s Office Transport Safety Investigations, found.

The investigation determined that the driver’s vision of the signals was likely impaired due to the position of the sun. The sun reflecting off the side of some stainless steel coal wagons parked in the adjacent Gunnedah long loop prior to the signal set to ‘Caution’ possibly further impaired his vision. Under these conditions, the driver did not suitably adjust the speed of the train to allow for safe sighitng of the signals.

The safety message from this investigation reminds train drivers of the importance of operating to current conditions, and with consideration to potential future conditions.

If safe sighting distance is reduced due to environmental factors, it is important to reduce speed and be prepared to stop.

Read the investigation report RO-2019-012: Signal passed at danger of passenger train NP43, Gunnedah, NSW on 10 June 2019

Last update 20 December 2019