What happened

On 30 January 2013, Pacific National freight train 9837, travelling from Nowra to Orange, passed signals SM109G and SM115G at stop on the Down Goods line between Dulwich Hill and Hurlstone Park in Sydney. Just prior to this incident a work crew had been working on the track under the protection of Absolute Signal Blocking (ASB). There were no injuries or damage.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB’s investigation found that the train crew did not take action in response to the indications of three consecutive signals, resulting in the passing of two of those signals at stop without authority (also called a SPAD). It was found that the more senior co-driver had inadvertently fallen asleep on the approach to these signals. The trainee driver, in a reduced state of alertness, missed the first signal at caution, and the next signal at stop. He applied the brakes once the train passed the final signal at stop after realising this signal applied to his train.

Two persons from a litter pickup work crew were on the track just before the train passed through their worksite. Once alerted to the train’s approach they moved off the tracks and to a safe place behind the platform at Hurlstone Park station.

A number of Pacific National’s policies and procedures were examined to determine if any area of the management or training of the train crew contributed to the incident. Fatigue management, and in particular over- reliance on the use of bio-mathematical model scores used to roster train crew, was one area where improvement was needed. The ATSB also found that there was an absence of adequate procedures and training for drivers who were performing co-driving duties while coaching trainee drivers.

What's been done as a result

As a result of the incident Pacific National has undertaken a range of actions to improve its approach to fatigue management and the implementation of fatigue training. They have also commenced a review of SPAD risk management processes and training requirements for coach/tutor drivers. A trial has commenced of improved data loggers for the Bulk Rail fleet.

Safety message

In order to minimise fatigue-related errors, rail operators should ensure that fatigue management systems incorporate integrated and multi-layered risk control mechanisms. Rail operators should also recognise that the training of drivers by advanced drivers during operations increases exposure to workload and other risks that need to be managed. In addition, SPAD strategies devised by rail operators should have regard to broad systemic issues rather than focus simply on individual train crew actions.