On 21 August 2012, Genesee and Wyoming Australia (GWA) freight train 2AD1 was en route from Adelaide, South Australia, to Katherine, Northern Territory, when the train crew exceeded the limit of their train authority at Tarcoola, South Australia.
The train authority authorised the crew to travel to Northgate, which is located on the railway line branching to the north from Tarcoola. However, the crew did not take the line to Northgate and the train continued through Tarcoola, travelling west for about 2.6 km toward Perth before stopping.
What the ATSB found
The ATSB investigation found that the driver of train 2AD1 was a trainee who was unfamiliar with the route and had not completed the minimum competencies required by GWA to enable him to operate the train. The qualified supervising driver had allowed the trainee to take control of the train and had subsequently fallen asleep.
Following the occurrence, the supervising driver returned a positive test for amphetamine and methamphetamine, which he had consumed while off-duty. These drugs probably contributed to him falling asleep during the shift.
The ATSB found that the supervising driver’s performance was being managed in accordance with GWA’s drug and alcohol management program as a result of a previous positive drug test and that the company’s drug and alcohol policy/processes were effective in managing drugs and alcohol in the workplace.
The ATSB further found that the company’s safety management system procedures did not provide supervising and trainee drivers with sufficient guidance and direction in relation to their supervisory and permitted driving roles.
The report also notes that the actions of a crew member travelling in the crew van in alerting the locomotive crew and operating the emergency brake handle significantly reduced the distance that train 2AD1 travelled before it stopped.
What's been done as a result
GWA has introduced a ‘Category Card’ to enhance the classification system for trainee locomotive drivers. The card specifies any operational restrictions placed on trainees and instructs the supervisor/mentor driver of the level of oversight that must be exercised for each classification level. GWA has notified all drivers of changes to the classification system and has taken steps to clarify the responsibilities of drivers supervising a trainee.
While GWA had a robust alcohol and drug-testing program in place, the organisation has taken further action by introducing screening en route and at off-train resting locations and increasing the frequency of random screening at existing locations.
This incident emphasises the need for rail transport operators to implement robust procedures that systematically manage the supervision, training and assessment of trainee drivers. It also highlights the risks associated with the use of amphetamines or methamphetamines and the impact that recreational drug use can have on safe rail operations.