Functionality of locomotive braking control and vigilance systems, driver-only operations, and human performance considerations such as fatigue are among the areas of interest for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s ongoing investigation into a fatal collision between freight trains at Jumperkine in Western Australia.
At about 2am on 24 December 2019, Pacific National freight train 7MP5 collided with the rear of stationary grain train 2K66. The freight train’s lead locomotive was substantially damaged with a significant amount of grain entering the cabin, and the driver was fatally injured.
The ATSB’s preliminary report details the accident's sequence of events, established using a range of sources including the freight train’s data logger, and notes that when the grain train had come to a stop behind a red signal at Jumperkine, the freight train was 14.5 km behind and approaching Jumperkine.
Nearing Jumperkine the freight train passed a signal set at caution (yellow), then a Temporary Speed Restriction Ahead sign warning of a 30 km/h speed restriction in 2,500 metres. Shortly after the driver acknowledged an alert from the train’s vigilance* system, the train passed a Jumperkine signal set at stop while travelling at a speed of about 72 km/h.
The preliminary report then details that 60 metres after the stop signal, train 7MP5 passed the subsequent Temporary Speed Restriction Start sign, with the driver applying the service brake about three seconds later.
The train’s speed gradually reduced as it travelled around a sweeping left hand curve and onto a straight section of track. It is likely that the rear of the grain train came into view at about this point and an emergency brake application was made.
About 13 seconds after the emergency brake application freight train 7MP5 collided with the rear of the grain train 2K66.
Shortly before the collision, a network controller had attempted to contact the driver of 7MP5 after a Signal Passed at Danger or SPAD alarm was triggered, but there was no response.
Investigators will examine the functionality of the relevant locomotive’s braking controls and vigilance system and undertake further analysis of available event data recorders and video recordings.
“ATSB preliminary reports detail basic factual information established in the investigation’s early evidence collection phase and do not contain findings, identify contributing factors or outline safety issues and actions, which will be detailed in an investigation’s final and any interim reports,” noted ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Stuart Godley.
“In the coming months transport safety investigators will examine the functionality of the locomotive’s braking and vigilance control systems and undertake further analysis of event data recorders and video recordings,” Dr Godley said.
“Other areas of further investigation include risk controls associated with collisions and Signals Passed At Danger authority exceedances, a review of driver-only operations, human performance controls and well as factors affecting human performance such as fatigue, health and fitness.
“A final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation, however, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate safety action can be taken,” Dr Godley noted.
The preliminary report notes that Pacific National has proactively taken a number of safety actions since the accident, including adding a second crew member to trains operating between midnight and 6 am.
*A train’s vigilance system is a safety device that operates in case of incapacitation of the train driver for any reason. The system will react by directly initiating an emergency brake application if an acknowledgment input is not received within a specified time increment (in this case 50 seconds).Last update 06 April 2020