What happened

At approximately 0105 on 11 October 2011, empty ore train 1901S, operated by Specialised Bulk Rail Pty Ltd, passed signal 13 displaying a stop indication at Dry Creek Junction in South Australia.

Train 1901S subsequently collided with loaded grain train 5132S, operated by Genesee and Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd, that was travelling in the opposite direction and traversing the turnout at Dry Creek Junction to enter the Dry Creek North Yard.

The collision was at low speed and there was no injury to the train crew of either train. There was significant damage to the crew cab of the lead locomotive of train 1901S and to the grain wagons of train 5132S that were struck during the collision.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined that the collision between train 1901S and 5132S was a result of train 1901S passing signal 13 at stop (SPAD). The SPAD of signal 13 was a result of the driver-in-training and co-driver (supervising driver) of train 1901S becoming distracted during the approach to the preceding signal, 135, which was displaying a caution aspect indicating that signal 13 ahead was at stop.

The investigation revealed that a combination of individual actions and systemic issues contributed to the collision. The driver’s lack of route knowledge, combined with an expectation of a clear run through the area probably influenced his failure to observe signal 135 at caution. The supervising driver was completing an administrative task that diverted his attention away from the primary task of supervising the actions of the driver-in-training.

The absence of adequate procedures to provide supervising drivers with sufficient direction as to the nature of their supervisory role and to inform of the level of competency attained by a driver-in-training resulted in the breakdown of operational risk controls.

The ATSB investigation explored fatigue impairment as a causal factor related to the SPAD of signal 13. While fatigue impairment was not considered a contributing safety factor in this occurrence, the importance of a rigorous fatigue risk management program subject to continual improvement is highlighted.

What has been done as a result

Following the collision at Dry Creek Junction, Specialised Bulk Rail Pty Ltd amended procedures that clarify the role and responsibilities of a driver supervising a trainee, and introduced arrangements to inform the supervising driver of the trainee’s level of competency.

Safety message

Rail operators must implement robust procedures that systematically manage the supervision, training, and assessment of drivers’ route knowledge to ensure competency and address any risks inherent in the operational task.