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Concern summary

Safety concern regarding a signal defect at [location]

Reporter's deidentified concern

The reporter has raised a safety concern regarding a signal defect at [location].The reporter states that most crossing loops have been replaced with passing lanes to allow for high speed passing of trains. The [location] passing lane is so short that the lane has no signalling provision to allow two trains, one behind the other, to enter the passing lane, thus there is provision for only one train to be in [location] passing lane at any one time. With the conversion to passing lanes, the passing lane entering signals were not fitted with either below speed signal or a calling-on signal, which means that there cannot be any proceed signal aspect on that signal.The reporter provided an example where a train controller requested the train driver to move the train forward and stop just short of the red home departure signal to allow for another train to come in behind them on the same track to allow then both trains to cross a separate north bound train. The reporter advises this is common practice at this location.

In the scenario provided in this report, the reporter advised that the signal was designed to be at stop because there was a train behind the signal, and due to the intended design of the signal, it was not fitted with a calling-on signal that would permit these moves. 

The reporter is concerned that there are no procedures that provide for verbal authority, or any other authority, for trains to be able to be run beyond red signals. The reporter believes that either the procedures need to be revised for that section of track or the signal needs to be redesigned, to ensure drivers and controllers can legally and safely carry out their duties. 

Named party's response

The operator advised that [location] passing lane is the longest of the five passing lanes.[Location] home signal has no low speed/calling on signal to allow a following movement to enter the loop line and proceed to signal [number 1] while the track is occupied beyond to signal [number 2].The operator reviewed the previous 4 months of train control graphs which showed this type of train movement occurred once, therefore considered an uncommon occurrence. On that one occasion where this type of train movement occurred, there was a high volume of train movements recorded on the train control graph which likely necessitated changes to planned train movements to retain healthy train services on path.In reference to the one occasion (as per above), network control contacted the crew of the second train and authorised the driver to pass signal [number] in the STOP position, and also indicated the presence of a preceding train positioned ahead on the loop. The crew were provided information about the movement in addition to the requirement of the rule.The network controller contacted the crew of 1st train and asked that they close up (move closer) to the down starting signal (number 2). The first train was 1,495 metres in length, the distance between signals [2] and [1] is 1,873 metres, which meant there was 350 metres separation between trains once the second train stopped at signal [1]. Within this communication the network controller advised the 1st train that the 2nd train was to proceed up to the signal [1] to the rear of them.[Operator] network rules on yard limits provides for the network controller to give a spoken authority for movements within yard limits and authorise a train to pass the home signal at STOP and then proceed onto a loop behind a train position ahead in the loop.If the location was consistently used for this type of movement, a review on the signalling would be undertaken to ensure engineering controls for the specific movement

ATSB comment

The ATSB was satisfied with the operator's response to this concern and did not request a response from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.