Rail safety investigations & reports

Safe work on track across Australia: Analysis of incident data, 2009 - 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

Final Report

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Safety summary

The ATSB has investigated a number of accidents and incidents while maintenance work was being performed on or near railway tracks. The ATSB SafetyWatch, introduced in 2012 to emphasise broad transport safety concerns in Australia, also highlighted 'safe work on rail'.

The ATSB continues to receive notifications of safe working incidents involving worksite protection arrangements for work on track. These notifications suggest the existence of broader safety issues associated with work on track that continue to increase risk to worker safety. In 2017, safe work on track continues to be an ATSB SafetyWatch priority.

This safety issue investigation reviews available data from across Australia of incidents and accidents relating to work on track. It is designed to provide industry with insights into the protection arrangements that are failing, and the reasons why, across many occurrences so that safety action can be designed to reduce future safe work on track occurrences.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB analysis grouped the notifiable occurrence data into eleven categories. The analysis indicated the most common events exposing track workers to highest risk, were:

  • the incorrect removal of the worksite protection
  • the incorrect positioning of the worksite protection
  • the type of protection being insufficient or incorrect, and
  • the incorrect identification of the worksite location.

The results of this safety issue investigation were largely reflective of the safety factors identified from previous ATSB occurrence investigations. That is, incidents were predominately a result of errors during the implementation or dissolution stage of providing track protection. Protections were either removed incorrectly or prematurely, or key communication exchanges failed to establish the location of the worksite with respect to approaching rail traffic.

What's been done as a result

The outcome of this ATSB safety issue investigation suggests that the rail industry should consider the event types identified above in determining areas in which to target effort for maximising the effectiveness of safety arrangements for work on track.

Rail transport operators continue to enhance arrangements within their networks that facilitate safe work on track. Work to share learnings between operators and to deliver better safety outcomes across the industry is also ongoing through industry initiatives such as the National Track Worker Safety Forum.

This forum has identified priority areas and is exploring improvements in worker competencies, technologies for worksite protection systems, compliance with critical communications protocols and addressing interface arrangements where differing rules and procedures exist between adjoining networks – particularly in sidings and yards.

Safety message

To minimise risk, rail transport operators must ensure systems for safe work on track encourage workers accessing the rail corridor to communicate sufficient information to validate their worksite location, the adequacy of the protections in place, and their positioning in relation to any approaching train movements.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 4.08MB]


Analysis of notifiable occurrences


Sources and submissions



General details
Date: 01 July 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 2009 - 2014   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Incident data across Australia    
State: Other    
Release date: 01 November 2017   Occurrence category: Other  
Report status: Final    
Last update 03 April 2020