Mode Rail
Reference No. RR201600004
Date reported 22 March 2016
Concern title Repair of track evaluation equipment used by the operator to conduct track inspections
Concern summary

The concern related to the repair of a track evaluation vehicle used by the operator to conduct track inspections and the use of the replacement equipment that cannot adequately inspect the track.

Industry / Operation affected Rail: Infrastructure
Concern subject type Rail: Track infrastructure

Reporter's concern

The reporter expressed a safety concern regarding the mechanical repair of the [main track evaluation equipment], used by [operator] to conduct track inspections.

The reporter advised that this vehicle has not been usable for over a month, which means that the track has not been inspected in this time and consequently cannot be certified as being safe for train use.

[Operator] has been using another device for testing the mainline track, which is an 86 kg, towable track recording device. However, this equipment cannot accurately measure the following parameters:

  • gauge/top/twist as no dynamic loading is applied
  • axle load of a normal loco or inspection train is 10–14 tonne.

The reporter is worried that [operator] are self-regulating and that many sections of track are not being adequately inspected as per the company’s technical maintenance plan.

The reporter is also concerned that secondary equipment is being operated by unqualified staff adding extra concern. The reporter is very experienced in rail infrastructure maintenance and does not want to see a major derailment or loss of life due to shortcuts being taken by this operator.

Operator's response (Operator 1)

I have liaised with our director of engineering and chief engineer who confirm the following:

  1. In relation to the statement:

‘The reporter advised that the [main track evaluation equipment] has not been usable for over a month, which means that the track has not been inspected in this time and consequently cannot be certified as being safe for train use.’

We advise that:

  • The [track evaluation equipment]:
    • went out of service on 30 March 2016 for repairs;
    • was tested on 4 May 2016; and
    • is scheduled to inspect the [location] line on [date].
  • Our technical maintenance plan and track inspection frequencies, as related to track inspections, include but are not limited to:
    • The [main track evaluation equipment] inspections which are to be completed four times yearly. We are compliant with this, and can confirm that all track has been inspected by the [main track evaluation equipment] within the past three months.
    • The Inspection Trolley/Vehicle as a contingency for the [main track evaluation equipment], and is included within our maintenance plan.
  • We can confirm that the track is certified as being safe for train use.
  1. In relation to the statement:

‘[Operator] have been using another device for testing mainline, which is an 86 kg, towable track recording device. However, this equipment cannot accurately measure the following parameters:

  • Gauge/top/twist as no dynamic loading is applied
  • Axle load of a normal loco or inspection train is 10-14 tonne.’

We can advise that:

  • Recording trolleys (including the secondary testing equipment) are accepted by us and overseas operators as an appropriate tool to complete track geometry inspections.
  • Tests within [operator] and overseas operators have confirmed the accuracy of this equipment when measuring gauge, line, twist, and top.
  • The deflection of rail due to the dynamic effect of the heavier axle load was found to be negligible due to the location of the recording device in relation to the loaded axle.
  • Track recording vehicles, such as the [main track evaluation equipment], are generally the preferred method to assess track geometry as they provide the ability to record at higher speeds than recording trolleys.
  • It is best practice to have a back-up system for measuring track geometry when a track recording vehicle is not available.
  1. In relation to the statement:

‘The reporter is worried that [operator] are self-regulating and that many sections of track are not being adequately inspected as per the company’s technical maintenance plan.’

We advise that:

  • We are accredited and regulated by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) in accordance with the Rail Safety National Law.
  • We maintain a safety management system in accordance to the requirements of the Rail Safety National Law, and this includes a management of change process.
  • Any change to our maintenance plan or track inspection frequencies are subject to our management of change and approval processes, which has a primary focus on ensuring safety risks are understood and addressed through any change.
  • As stated in our response in paragraph 1 above, we are inspecting the track in accordance with our maintenance plan and track inspection frequencies.
  1. In relation to the statement:

‘The reporter is also concerned that the secondary equipment is being operated by unqualified staff.’

We advises that:

  • Operators of the secondary equipment have been trained and certified competent by a certified trainer and assessor.
  • As stated above, the use of the secondary equipment is compliant to the maintenance plan, and is fit for purpose in the contexts being used.
  • Compliance to the maintenance plan helps assure that safety risks are managed so far as is reasonably practicable (including derailment and loss of life risks).

With all that said, what this definitely highlights, is that the communication around the effectiveness and robustness of alternative methods to achieve our maintenance plan compliance (such as which equipment is used) can be improved. Traditionally, compliance to the maintenance plan has always been via the [main track evaluation equipment], and the increased use of the secondary equipment should have been communicated as to what it can (and cannot) do, along with the expectations of its use. We will seek to inform employees about the secondary equipment, and also be more mindful of communicating changes to normal practice moving forward.

Regulator's response (Regulator 1)

The ONRSR notes the operator’s safety management system (SMS) requires track to be inspected by the [main track evaluation equipment] four times per year (as indicated by the operator’s response). However, it is to be noted that despite the availability/serviceability of the [main track evaluation equipment] for a period of one month, the operator is able to continue to meet their inspection requirements (as per their SMS).

The ONRSR is satisfied that the operator appears to have applied sufficient rigor to assure the use of the secondary equipment for mainline track testing and accepts the use of this equipment for mainline track testing as being valid. However, the ONRSR will continue to monitor the use and competence of the operator’s personnel when deploying/operating this equipment for the purposes of track testing.

In regards to the reported concerns contained within the REPCON Report, track conditions are an issue that the ONRSR regularly examines and have further scheduled into our 2016 National work program. A recent compliance activity was conducted with the operator, which included a focus on track safety. The ONRSR is currently working with this operator in regard to managing the outcome/s of the mentioned activity.

Last update 12 July 2018