AusRAIL, Market Sectors

ATSB releases rail safety report

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a report that identified 38 safety issues from 11 investigations into rail safety incidences undertaken by the ATSB during 2009-10.

The report examines the safety issues across Australia’s aviation, marine and rail sectors that were identified by the ATSB in the course of its safety investigations during this time.

124 safety issues, (factors that could adversely affect the safety of future operations) were identified across the sectors, with the transport industry undertaking 141 separate safety actions to deal with these.

While inadequate procedures or the lack of procedures posed the greatest safety risk across all three modes of transport, ATSB chief commissioner Martin Dolan said the report shows that industry is actively managing these risks.

“I’m pleased to see that the aviation, marine and rail industries are actively responding to identified safety issues by improving procedures, documentation and education,” Dolan said.

“By directly dealing with safety concerns, transport operators are helping ensure that accidents and incidents are not repeated.”

Of the 38 rail safety issues identified from 11 investigations undertaken by the ATSB during 2009-10, 25 were of minor risk, 13 were of significant risk, with no safety issues carrying a critical risk level.

Vehicle maintenance and network operations were the areas most associated with significant risk.

Vehicle operation was the most common individual action safety factor in rail occurrences. This included vehicle handling and monitoring checking, assessing and planning communicating and coordinating with external parties and using equipment made up of vehicle operation actions.

Issues with procedures were the most common form of risk control found in ATSB rail investigations. Citing the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) Code of Practice (COP) as an example of this, the report stated that ARTC’s COP lacked guidelines regarding bolt-hole cracks and track series irregularities.

The report also referred to an operator’s ambiguous and decentralised instructions about crossing loop operations which may have resulted in ineffective or incomplete crew training as another example.

Other contributing safety factors included local condition, technical failure mechanism and organisational influence.

Weather conditions and the physical environment were equally common to local condition safety factors in rail.

Fractures were the most common technical failure mechanism in rail including cracking on the tread of the wheel and high cycle fatigue cracking in the web of the rail.

All 13 safety factors in rail investigations at the organisational influences level involved safety management processes.

Unlike aviation and marine industries, proactive safety actions on behalf of Australia’s rail industry made up only about half of all safety actions identified by the ATSB.

The most common type of proactive industry safety action was related to procedures, with the report noting that in response to most safety issues of significant risk, operators proactively changed or developed new procedures.

Dolan presented an overview of findings from the ATSB’s Australian Rail Safety Occurrence Data report January 2001-June 2010 at the recent Rail Safety conference.

While the report shows that rail fatalities, derailments and level crossing occurrences involving both people and vehicles are trending down, collisions in Australia’s rail system are trending up across nearly all of rail’s various categories including collisions with infrastructure and rolling stock.