Safety concern regarding the removal of safety check rails on bridges throughout [Operator's] network.
The reporter advises that safety check rails were specifically fitted to ensure rolling stock remains on a bridge if derailed. While the check rails have limitations, for lower speed and more minor derailments, the check rails are intended to keep the wheels on the sleepers and prevent the rolling stock from departing the track.
The reporter states that the removal of the rails at [location bridge], is a major safety concern. This section of track is quite rough and on a curved bridge.
The reporter further states that this section of track also frequently carries high speed passenger services, and should a rail vehicle derail on or before crossing the bridge, there is now nothing stopping the rail traffic from plunging into the river below, which obviously has potentially catastrophic consequences.
Following take-up of the [location] networks in 2004, [Operator] considered the benefits and adverse consequences of safety check rails in 2008.
The original intent of check rails was to provide a restraint on derailed wheels so that derailed trains could be prevented from falling from bridges. With increasing train speeds and axle loading it was identified that check rails generally fail to restrain the derailed wheels at normal track speeds.
Check rails create maintenance difficulties with loosening fastenings affecting structural integrity and creating a hazard to rail traffic, whilst restricting ballast tamping at bridge ends and across ballast top bridges.
An expert risk assessment was conducted in November 2008 which determined that safety risks were lowered for bridges without check rails, compared to bridges with check rails. [Operator] has subsequently worked on the progressive removal of bridge check rails and clarifying that new or replacement bridges do not need check rails fitted. A copy of the Risk Assessment and the resultant letter notifying the then Rail Safety Regulator have been attached to this REPCON (provided to the ATSB and Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).
[Clauses in documents] outlines the structural standard that check rails are not fitted to bridges on the [Operator] rail network. [Operator] is working within the requirements of our Safety Management System (SMS) as accredited by ONRSR, and [Operator] regards our existing standards on bridge check rails as lowering risks So Far As Is Reasonably Practicable (SFAIRP).
ONRSR has reviewed the reporter’s concerns and the operator’s response including additional information accompanying the REPCON report. ONRSR will make further enquiries with the rail transport operator and seek additional information and assurances that risks are being managed so far as is reasonably practicable.