Reference number
Date reported
Published date
Affected operation/industry
Concern subject type
Concern summary

COVID related staffing shortages in network control. 

Reporter's deidentified concern

The reporter is concerned that due to COVID related staff shortages, there have been instances where only one controller is being rostered at night. The concern is that during periods of the controller's break, light rail vehicles are not being safely monitored for network incidents, such as light rail or tram authority exceeded (LRTAEs), nor is there availability of a controller to implement emergency procedures if required. The reporter further states that there are no mobile network officers rostered on after about 11pm.The reporter is concerned that there has been little contingency planning around staff shortages, despite COVID shortages now being predictable.The reporter would like confirmation that the appropriate risk assessments have been conducted and associated risk controls have been implemented for instances where controllers are rostered on their own.

Named party's response

For clarity, and with the view to provide some context regarding how [Operator] operations are resourced in the Operations Control Centre (OCC), 2 Network Controllers (NC) are rostered at any given time to operate the network, 1 NC being rostered to manage Line [X], and one NC being rostered to manage Lines [Y&Z]. This allows a full coverage from 04:00 until 28:30 (04:30 the following day) and the times are specific to allow coverage of breaks between the 3rd and 4th hour of working. This forms the basis of our minimum operating requirements and is in line with our Operational Risk Register.For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no reduction of the OCC roster as a consequence of COVID staff shortages.Instead, and as a result of consultation with the NC workgroup, the coverage in the OCC was actually increased in May 2021 to roster 7 NCs on weekdays (instead of 6 NCs prior to that date) with the view to provide additional support in the room.This roster was in place at the time of the allegations of the reporter.For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the [operator] has proactively trained and certified additional employees to cover NC absences, under a relief NC program (6 employees trained) and can also reallocate duty managers to cover an NC shift as required.This program has allowed [Operator] to continue operating safely the network throughout the entire pandemic without any impact on services, which refutes the allegation of little contingency planning around staff shortages.Notwithstanding the above, on the 23 December 2021 the [operator] confirms that on 3 consecutive nights, a staff shortage was identified following several COVID-related incidents, and 3 Line [X] consecutive night shifts therefore could not be covered.The absence of coverage on the L1 desk meant that no NC would have been present to operate the Line [X] network between 02:00 and 04:00.As soon as [Operator] became aware of the inability to cover the NC shift for Line [X], they activated their Incident Management Team to consider options and mitigate any Safety risk.During those 2 hours, it is important to note that no operational service with tram vehicles is normally scheduled.The outcome of the Incident Management Team discussions and risk assessment was to:Close the Line [X] network between 02:00 and 04:00.Turn all electrical assets off (substations, vehicles) between 02:00 and 04:00.Cancel all planned works that were planned for each of those 3 nights.Cancel all out of service tram movements planned for each of those 3 nights.Redirect all emergency calls to the Senior Manager on call for each of those 3 nights.The [Operator]  refutes the statement that the network would be generally left unattended during periods of the NC's break, and that light rail vehicles would not be safely monitored for network incidents, such as LRTAEs or otherwise to implement emergency procedures if required.

ATSB comment

The ATSB was satisfied with the operator's response and did not seek an additional response from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.