Key points

  • A new system for use by rail safety workers was not supported by an effective training regime which meant that when a Protection Officer used it for the first time to complete a ‘track occupancy authority’ they did not impose the required temporary speed restriction.
  • Australian Rail Track Corporation has taken steps, and has more underway, to address safety issues from investigation.
  • When introducing new technology, training regimes should include competency assessments, and content tailored for the workers and their required application of the technology. Training should include practical use of the technology under different scenarios, and include managing foreseeable errors, to promote familiarisation and understanding.

A rail network operator has taken steps to improve training after a speed restriction was not applied to a worksite before a Sydney-bound passenger train was allowed to pass through it.

On 29 June 2021, a NSW Trains XPT passenger train was operating a service from Albury to Sydney when it travelled through a worksite at Harefield, in the NSW Riverina, at approximately 100 km/h, despite ongoing repairs requiring a speed limit of 40 km/h.

An investigation into how the incident occurred was conducted by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations, which conducts rail investigations in New South Wales on behalf of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The investigation found the Protection Officer, who managed the Track Occupancy Authority on-site, had incorrectly answered “no” to the assurance question asking whether there were any conditions affecting the network, prior to the passenger train being cleared to pass through the worksite.

“The new digital system being used to manage the track occupancy did not include a requirement for safety critical information to be confirmed and repeated back, which is a safeworking requirement under the operator’s network rules,” OTSI Chief Investigator Dr Natalie Pelham said.

“The rollout of this new system was not targeted to the appropriate level of competence of the trainees,” Dr Pelham continued.

“The Protection Officer involved in this incident was not trained or competent in the rules and procedures for Track Occupancy Authority when they were briefed on the new digital system, and there was no competence assessment for the use of the application for the Protection Officer involved.”

In response to the incident, the network operator, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), has developed a new training structure for the digital system, which consists of three separate modules, specifically relevant to a Protection Officer competency level.

“This investigation has highlighted the importance of supporting the introduction of new technology with training that includes competency assessments, content tailored for the workers and their required application of the technology in their work, and the practical use of the technology under different scenarios.

“We believe the action taken to address the structure of this training will address that aspect of the safety issue,” Dr Pelham said.

OTSI will continue to monitor the ARTC’s commitment to address the separate safety issue regarding confirmation and repeating-back of safety critical information under the new digital system.

Read the report: Speed restriction not applied, allowing train ST24 to overspeed, Harefield NSW, 29 June 2021

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