Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD) incidents – where trains pass a red stop signal into a section of track without authority to do so – are caused by a range of factors, and occur throughout the rail industry round the world. Since 2017, Queensland Rail has introduced a number of measures to reduce its SPAD rate and is consistently recording fewer incidents.
SPAD incidents are an industry-wide issue faced by rail operators all over the world and can be caused by an error or violation by a driver, signaller or controller, or because of a technical glitch, and are often a result of the length of time and distance it takes to stop a train.
Queensland Rail, which is responsible for more than 6,500km of track and 216 stations, ranks safety as its top priority and is committed to improving its safety record. Drivers who are involved in SPAD incidents are removed from duty and undergo alcohol and drug testing, are subject to a safety investigation, and must pass a competency assessment and undergo on-track monitoring to confirm their skills before they can return to their usual duties.
However, when a slight increase in its SPAD rate was detected in the first half of 2017–18, Queensland Rail instigated a number of other measures to help reduce the number of SPAD incidents across its network.
Putting safety measures in motion
In October 2017, Queensland Rail formed a SPAD Prevention Taskforce, which brought together key staff to deliver a strategy and devise safety controls that focused on human factors, driver behaviour and increased levels of engagement with staff.
The taskforce implemented toolbox talks for staff and increased one-on-one engagement with train drivers to improve SPAD awareness. An organisational psychologist specialising in human performance in safety-critical settings was also appointed to help guide the work of the taskforce.
In February 2019, Queensland Rail also engineered solutions for signal ME45 at Bowen Hills – north-east of Brisbane’s CBD – to improve visibility at the site for drivers, provide advanced warning of the signal, and reduce the likelihood of collisions occurring. Physical changes to signalling have also been carried out at a number of locations including Normanby and Northgate.
Queensland Rail is also analysing data from incident‑free events to help identify train handling behaviour that has a known relationship to SPAD incidents, and to further improve driver training and awareness.
Numbers speak for themselves
According to Nick Easy, Queensland Rail CEO, the number of SPAD incidents had stabilised by February 2018 and continues to decline.
“Following the establishment of the Taskforce, Queensland Rail recorded the lowest number of SPADs since this measure was first reliably recorded over two decades ago,” Mr Easy said.
“In January 2019, Queensland Rail recorded its best-ever SPAD rate of 1.44 SPADs per million train kilometres travelled.
“In June 2019, Queensland Rail recorded a SPAD rate of 1.61 per million train kilometres. This number is a significant improvement from a year ago when the rate was 2.35 in June 2018, and is below Queensland Rail’s target of 1.78.
“This improvement was also reflected in the 2018–19 financial year, when Queensland Rail recorded 1.61 SPADs per million train kilometres travelled – a 30 per cent improvement on 2017–18 when it was 2.35.”
But Queensland Rail has no intention of resting on its laurels where safety is concerned.
“We’re extremely pleased to see the improvements the SPAD Prevention Taskforce has already delivered in terms of reducing the rate of SPADs on the network, and we will continue our strong focus in this area.”