Safety action taken after near miss on Sydney Trains network

  • Workers had to jump out of the path of an oncoming passenger train when a signaller incorrectly removed track protections while a freight train was being reversed into a siding;
  • Sydney Trains has taken a number of actions to address the issues identified in the subsequent transport safety investigation.

Sydney Trains has taken numerous safety actions in response to a near miss, which resulted in injuries to one rail worker, a transport safety investigation report notes.

On 8 January 2021, a Pacific National freight train with a driver, assistant driver, and trainee onboard, was travelling on the main line south toward Sydney, when it entered a steep section of track near Cowan Station and began to fail due to wheel slip.

Sydney Trains network control directed the crew to propel the train back down the slope, toward a siding at Hawkesbury River.

The assistant and trainee had to walk to the rear of the train, so they could direct the driver over radio throughout the movement. Due to the terrain, they had to walk on the opposite track throughout this procedure.

To protect the workers, the Sydney Trains signaller applied rail signals to prevent another train from entering the section of track, while the assistant driver and trainee were walking to the rear of the train.

When the driver reported the movement was beginning, the signaller removed the protection from the track. The signaller was not familiar with the terrain or the scenario and mistakenly believed the workers were clear of the track.

This meant a passenger train was allowed to enter the section where the workers were walking.

Seeing the lights of a train approaching, the assistant driver and trainee both jumped clear to an adjacent cess area, with one sustaining an injury.

An investigation by the Office of Transport Safety Investigation (OTSI), which conducts rail investigations in NSW on behalf of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, detailed a range of contributing factors, safety issues, and safety actions that have been taken as a result of the incident.

“Training and competence management regimes for rail safety workers need to provide relevant and meaningful content, such as scenario-based training and site-based network familiarisation, to allow workers to perform safely and effectively,” OTSI Chief Investigator Dr Natalie Pelham said.

“The Sydney Trains signaller and the driver of the train did not observe the requirements of the relevant Train Working Network Rules and Procedures for protecting workers on track with in-service rail traffic.”

The investigation also notes Sydney Trains’ assurance and audit processes for signal box management had failed to detect non-conformances to procedure in the past.

“In this case, the signaller did not report this incident as per the relevant rule – it was only noted when the trainee worker reported their injury,” Dr Pelham said.

“To provide confidence that rules and procedures are being followed and they are effective in managing relevant risks, rail operator assurance processes need to detect non-conformances.”

As a result of this incident, Sydney Trains has taken a range of actions, including re-introducing safety refresher training for signallers, providing signallers with a pair of Safe Tracks alerts, a new Operating Instruction for propelling movements at Cowan Bank, a communications cue card, and an e-learning course on the use of the relevant Network Rule.

The operator has also instructed all signallers to report each use of the relevant Network Rule to their line manager, and all line managers have been instructed to submit an audio compliance request for all reported uses for review.

You can find here the report: RO-2021-002: Safeworking irregularity and near miss with crew of train 5936 at Hawkesbury River, New South Wales on 8 January 2021

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