Mode Rail
Reference No. RR201800011
Date reported 13 July 2018
Concern title Multiple breaches of procedures at Network Control Centre during period of industrial action
Concern summary

The concerns related to a number of policy and procedure breaches to ensure operational continuity at the Network Control Centre during protected industrial action.

Industry / Operation affected Rail: Operations control
Concern subject type Rail: Network operations

Reporter's concern

Multiple reporters collectively advised:

There was insufficient or no handover – verbal or other, between incoming and outgoing network controllers. In some cases, possession bid for stabled rolling stock were not entered and were deleted from recording tools (Movement Planner/Vizirail), which were not included to the relevant handovers for particular control boards.

Trainee network controllers, who did not hold safe working qualifications, were operating control boards with little to no supervision. Reporters advised that trainees set signals, moved points, liaised with drivers, and monitored boards.

Several reporters advised that [Operator] had stated that no trainees were operating any boards without being supervised by a qualified controller; however, each reporter advised this was not the case and that adequate supervision did not occur. One example provided stated that when a controller went on a short break, one controller was left overseeing four boards. It was further reported that supervising staff were not qualified on all of the boards they were supervising.

Additionally, trainees were put in an unreasonable position, pressured to do work they were not qualified for, fearing that raising concerns or refusal may impact negatively upon them.

Staff working during the protective action, worked shifts of up 12 hours in duration and were responsible for overseeing the activities on two or more control boards with the running of full services on the network. There were no staff available to provide relevant breaks (i.e. toilet or meal breaks). This created a safety concern not only for the health status of the individuals involved, but also the safety of the network.

The reporters advised that these breaches resulted in remaining controllers encountering excessive workloads and high stress levels; and further exposed field staff and train crew to heightened risks, due to an increased risk of controller error, and the inability to respond to potential emergencies.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

Report A

There was insufficient or no handover – verbal or other, between incoming and outgoing network controllers. In some cases, possession bid for stabled rolling stock were not entered and were deleted from recording tools (Movement Planner/Vizirail), which were not included to the relevant handovers for particular control boards.

Response A

A handover document was prepared by the outgoing Network Control Officer (NCO) and a message was broadcast to all Rail Traffic and Track Workers on the Network advising of the disruption. “Attention all rail traffic and workers. The Control Centre is experiencing a period of disruption. All workers cease work and clear the Danger Zone. Rail traffic proceed to the next safe stopping location within limit of authority. A Network Control Officer will be in contact with you shortly to resume normal operations.”

The Network Control Centre was staffed by the Network Control Leader and Safeworking Advisor at all times. The incoming Network Control Officers familiarised themselves with the handover and the status of the Network prior to operations resuming. 

This process is similar to the process undertaken for Control Centre evacuations.

Report B

Trainee network controllers, who did not hold safe working qualifications, were operating control boards with little to no supervision. Reporters advise that trainees set signals, moved points, liaised with drivers, and monitored boards. Several reporters advised that [operator] had stated that no trainees were operating any boards without being supervised by a qualified controller; however, each reporter advised this was not the case, and that adequate supervision did not occur. One example provided stated that when a controller went on a short break, one controller was left overseeing four boards. It was further reported that supervising staff were not qualified on all of the boards they were supervising.

Additionally, trainees were put in an unreasonable position, pressured to do work they were not qualified for, fearing that raising concerns or refusal may impact upon them negatively.

Response B

Safety remains our first priority. [Operator] operates, and will continue to operate, in accordance with our safety obligations under the Rail Safety National Law (State) Act 2017. In this regard, [Operator] only uses qualified and competent personnel to operate its train control boards.

Consequently, any trainee Network Controllers who are ever on boards are supervised at all times (for example, when they are participating in the network control training program).  

The process in the Network Control Centre allows for a single Network Control Officer to monitor or work more than one control board. This process is followed in periods when we reduce the number of Network Control Officers for leave e.g. Christmas Day.

Report C

Staff working during the protective action, worked shifts of up 12 hours in duration and were responsible for overseeing the activities on two or more control boards with the running of full services on the network. There were no staff available to provide relevant breaks (i.e. toilet or meal breaks). This created a safety concern not only for the health status of the individuals involved but also the safety of the network.

Response C

[Operator] enterprise agreement allows for shifts of up 12 hours in duration. In accordance with existing procedures all staff that worked throughout the protected industrial action had their rosters verified using the FAID tool.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

ONRSR has considered the information supplied by reporters and the response provided by the rail transport operator. ONRSR has undertaken further enquiries with the rail transport operator and is satisfied with the assurances given by the operator.

ATSB comment

The ATSB received the following comment from one of the reporters:

“The fact is there were instances that no handover was present when the controllers returned from the industrial action.  Management had not organised a verbal handover and ushered everyone out of the room except one person, it was their decision to conduct the process this way. To say it is like an evacuation, gives management the right to break any rules that are in place.”

Last update 03 July 2019