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Mode Rail
Reference No. RR201300014
Date reported 04 September 2013
Concern title Safety concerns during an emergency at the station
Concern summary

The concerns related to the procedures in place when a train stopped at a platform while an emergency evacuation was occurring. The passengers were allowed to disembark on to the platform with no prior warning of the emergency.

Industry / Operation affected Rail: Passenger - metropolitan
Concern subject type Rail: Network operations

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern regarding an emergency evacuation. During the evacuation, trains were observed arriving at platforms and allowing their passengers to disembark. Luckily the emergency turned out to be a false alarm, but if it had been a real emergency, passengers may have unknowingly disembarked onto an already evacuated platform or into an emergency situation. There may also be danger to the passengers still on the train arriving at an affected station.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Given the lack of detail in the notification we have examined our records and found that the most recent activation of the emergency system.

At 0656 hours two contractors signed on to conduct repairs to the male toilets at the eastern end of the concourse. The work included cutting through the external sandstone wall to gain access to the urinal. It should be noted that this work was taking place away from the platforms and the entry/exit points to the station.

At 0731 hours the emergency warning intercommunications system (EWIS) went into evacuation mode, and commenced a series of automatic announcements throughout the station advising people to evacuate the area. The Station Duty Manager (SDM) immediately checked the EWIS panel and it indicated that the source of the alarm was the area in which the contractors were working. The SDM advised all station staff via two-way radio that he would investigate the issue.

At 0732 hours the Security Control Centre (SCC) informed Train Control that the EWIS at the station had been activated, and that the SDM was investigating the situation.

Upon arriving at the eastern end of the concourse, the SDM identified that dust from the sandstone cutting had triggered two nearby smoke detectors, and that the area was safe and free from fire. The SDM advised the contractors to cease work immediately and advised all station staff via two-way radio that it was a false alarm.

Manual PA announcements commenced at 0735 hours to advise customers of the false alarm, explaining that an evacuation was not required and there was no cause for concern. The SDM isolated the alarm and contacted the SCC to update them on the situation.

Crews from Fire & Rescue and the Emergency Response Unit arrived at 0738 hours. The Fire Monitoring System was reset at 0745 hours and crews left the site at 0750 hours. The contractors were advised that they would need to submit an isolation request to ERU prior to the recommencement of any work in the area.


ATSB comment

REPCON questioned whether there were procedures in place to ensure that drivers of incoming trains were informed of the emergency and were prepared to ether stop the train before it approaches the station or there is another emergency procedure to ensure that passengers do not disembark from the train into a dangerous situation.


Operator response

The Network Rules and Procedures under which services are operated on the network provide for the issue of a Condition Affecting the Network (CAN) warning to rail traffic, which may include stopping trains. The applicable Network Rule states that 'Conditions that can or do affect the safety of operations in the network must be reported promptly to the Network Control Officer responsible for the affected portions of line'.

The Station Duty Manager (SDM) established within four minutes that the activation of the Emergency Warning Intercommunications System (EWIS) at the station was a false alarm. The SDM then contacted the Security Control Centre and informed them of this before a CAN warning could be issued. A review of CCTV footage indicates only one train arrived at the station in the period from when the EWIS was activated to the time that the incident was identified as a false alarm. This train came to a stand alongside platform 2, which was about the same time that the SDM established it was a false alarm.

Response procedures are in place for any conditions which present risk to staff and passengers - this includes preventing passengers disembarking into a station which is being evacuated. However, initiation of these procedures and allied actions is clearly a product of the sequence of events of the particular incident. In this incident the time interval between the commencement of the alarm and the train's arrival (approximately two minutes) meant warning was not provided in time for the train crew to react. Nonetheless, should a train arrive at a station that is affected by an emergency situation (without having been given instruction or warning) the train crew are trained to ensure the safety of passengers until the extent of the emergency has been determined. Also, in this type of situation at a station, train crew will follow the instructions provided by station staff and have the capacity to communicate with network control officers using the train radio and mobile telephones.

While it is clearly not desirable to disembark passengers into potentially hazardous situations it should be remembered that (in isolated cases such as this one - when the train arrived while the incident was still being assessed) when the passengers disembarked they were not left unassisted as they became part of the station evacuation process. Had the situation proved to be other than a false alarm the response procedures would have been applied to prevent further trains stopping at the station.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has reviewed the report and we are satisfied with the response supplied by the operator.

However, we will consider the content of the report for further planning of compliance activities within upcoming audits and inspections. It should be noted that 'public safety in underground commuter railways', including 'emergency response procedures' are a national focus for the ONRSR audit and compliance activities within 2013-2014.

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Last update 24 March 2014