Rail safety investigations & reports

Safeworking Breaches at Blackheath on 13 June 2013, Newcastle on 13 July 2013 and Wollstonecraft 17 July 2013

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final report

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What happened

During June and July 2013, three separate safeworking breaches occurred on the Sydney Trains Network in NSW involving the application of Network Rule NWT 308 (Absolute Signal Blocking) and Network Procedure NPR 703 (Using Absolute Signal Blocking). The incidents occurred at Blackheath on 13 June 2013, Newcastle on 13 July 2013 and Wollstonecraft on 17 July 2013.

In each case, trains were being excluded from worksites, as part of worksite protection arrangements, using the Absolute Signal Blocking (ASB) rule and procedure. The rule and procedure were not adhered to during the authorisation of the ASB resulting in trains entering or passing through the worksites from which they should have been excluded.

What the ATSB found

The three incidents were the result of the requirements of the Network Rule and Procedure not being complied with; particularly full train-in-section checks were not being conducted or the location of worksites was not clearly identified. Also, the Sydney Trains’ systems used to monitor the application of ASB were not consolidated. Instead, the systems made a very limited number of isolated and generally non-safety related findings without identification of how the findings or proposed corrective actions were to be recorded, analysed or implemented.

What's been done as a result

Immediately after the third incident, Sydney Trains suspended use of the ASB rule and procedure for some categories of track work. The suspension was conditionally lifted on 23 July 2014 with some additional procedural requirements and an emphasis on complying with existing requirements for clear communications.

In September 2014, Sydney Trains commenced a trial of a ‘Coded Authorisation Process for Absolute Signal Blocking’. The trial seeks to address the common types of errors identified in ASB incidents by testing a ‘job aid’ which requires improved train-in-section checks, improved identification of work site locations and consistency in the implementation process between the Signaller and the PO for any ASB request. It also requires that a unique code number be issued to the Protection Officer by the Signaller upon any request for ASB. Work cannot commence on track without this code and the code is surrendered back to the Signaller when the ASB is fulfilled.

On the matter of the monitoring and assurance, the ATSB has recommended that Sydney Trains undertake further work to improve its focus on the potential issues involving ASB and its continued safety.

Safety message

ASB is one of five methods of worksite protection which are designed to provide workers with safe track access. It is paramount that track access using any of the methods is properly planned with adequate defence(s) against error, has the Network Rules and Procedures applied consistently and is constantly monitored for compliance.

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The occurrences


Safety analysis


Safety issues and actions

Sources and submissions


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General details
Date: 13 June 2013   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0848 EST    
Location   (show map): Blackheath, Newcastle and Wollstonecraft   Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation  
State: New South Wales    
Release date: 02 March 2015    
Report status: Final   Occurrence category: Incident  
Expected completion: 1st Quarter 2015   Highest injury level: None  

Train 1 details

Train 1 details
Train operator CityRail (now NSW TrainLink)  
Train registration W521  
Type of operation Passenger  
Damage to train Nil  
Departure point Central Station, Sydney, NSW  
Destination Mount Victoria, NSW  

Train 2 details

Train 2 details
Train operator NSW TrainLink  
Train registration V712  
Type of operation Passenger  
Damage to train Nil  
Departure point Telarah, NSW  
Destination Newcastle, NSW  

Train 3 details

Train 3 details
Train registration 117-H  
Type of operation Passenger  
Damage to train Nil  
Departure point Sydney Central Station, NSW  
Destination Hornsby, NSW  
Last update 14 November 2018