January 2019 marks the lowest Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) rate in Queensland Rail’s history, after the organisation implemented a range of SPAD prevention controls and initiatives, including a dedicated taskforce, in 2017.
An SPAD occurs when a train passes a red stop signal and occupies a section of track without authority to do so. SPAD incidents can occur for varying reasons, and are industry-wide and faced by rail operators all over the world.
Drivers who are involved in SPAD incidents are removed from duty, undergo alcohol and drug testing, debrief and safety investigation, and must pass a competency assessment and undergo on-track monitoring to confirm their skills prior to returning to driving duties.
Queensland Rail CEO, Nick Easy, said safety was the organisation’s top priority.
“We’re extremely pleased to have seen our SPAD rate decrease steadily since February 2018, to the point where we recorded our organisation’s best-ever SPAD rate last month of 1.44 SPADs per million train kilometres travelled,” Mr Easy said.
“This is a rate improvement of 43 per cent compared with January 2018, when we recorded a peak SPAD rate of 2.53.”
Since its establishment in October 2017, the SPAD Prevention Taskforce has brought together key employees from across Queensland Rail to deliver a comprehensive SPAD strategy and a broad range of new safety controls focused on human factors, driver behaviour, and increased levels of engagement with staff.
In October 2018, the organisation also appointed an Organisational Psychologist specialising in human performance in safety critical settings to work directly with its train drivers and to help guide the work of the Taskforce.
Since then, taskforce has implemented new toolbox talks for staff, increased one-on-one engagement with train drivers to improve SPAD awareness, and physical changes to signalling infrastructure at a number of locations including Normanby and Northgate.
Mr Easy said every SPAD on the Queensland Rail network was taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly to identify all contributing factors and to make any recommendations to prevent recurrence.
This achievement comes as Queensland Rail assists the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) with its investigation into a SPAD incident which occurred on 10 January 2018 at Bowen Hills, for which the ATSB has released its interim report.
“We welcome the release of the interim report and will continue to work with and assist the Bureau as it continues its more detailed investigation,” Mr Easy said.
Queensland Rail has identified and implemented engineering solutions for the signal involved in this incident at Bowen Hills (ME45) to improve visibility at the site for drivers, provide advanced warning of the signal, and reduce the likelihood of further SPADs at this location.
These changes involved upgrading the LED aspects of the signal to reduce the risk of drivers viewing signals incorrectly, relocating the stopping marker at Bowen Hills station to provide drivers with a better line of sight, and from 24 February 2019 the signal is now preceded by two warning signals instead of one.
Queensland Rail has also commenced reviewing and identifying improvements to its maintenance of competency (MoC) assessment, undertaken by existing train drivers every 18 months or following a SPAD incident, to ensure the MoC process is efficient and in line with industry best practice.
From April 2019, Queensland Rail will transition to a revised theory assessment as part of the MoC process, with updated questions and content which will be administered through a classroom-based group setting, rather than on an individual basis wherever practical.
Mr Easy said this was in line with contemporary adult learning practices and the process adopted by many other rail operators in undertaking MoC assessments.
“The MoC process is only one component of Queensland Rail’s comprehensive assurance process for existing drivers,” he said.
Other components will include regular analysis conducted of train event recorders, which function like an airplane ‘black box’, to identify and manage driver behaviours, in addition to on-track assessments by driver supervisors.
“The SPAD Taskforce has already delivered significant improvements in terms of reducing the rate of SPADs on the network and this strong focus will continue,” Mr Easy said.
There have been no Citytrain collisions as a result of a SPAD on the South-East Queensland network since 1996.