Procedural flaws bigger factor than meth in 2015 fatality: ATSB

A lack of clear safety instruction has been labelled a more significant factor than the presence of methamphetamine in the system of a rail worker who was killed by a passenger train north-east of Perth in 2015.

A Public Transport Authority (PTA) track worker died after he was hit at a level crossing by an A-series train operating between Perth and Midland on the Transperth passenger network, just after 10.30am on February 10, 2015.

According to the final incident report, released this month by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the man was within the rail corridor with another maintenance worker, inspecting a pedestrian level crossing gate, when he turned around and began to cross the railway.

Despite an earlier warning from one of his colleagues of an oncoming train, the sounding of the train’s horn by its driver, and a further verbal warning from a colleague as he began to cross the track, the worker appeared to be unaware of the train’s approach prior to his death, the ATSB reported.

A toxicology report identified the presence of methamphetamine and amphetamine in blood and tissue samples taken from the man in a post mortem examination.

While the Bureau did note that the use of stimulants such as methamphetamine is associated “with a range of neurocognitive effects in humans that may affect performance,” it decided “it was not possible to determine whether this contributed to the incident.”

Instead, the ATSB identified a series of safety system errors as major contributing factors in the fatal collision.

“The PTA maintenance workers had not implemented any form of track worker protection at the site,” the Bureau wrote.

“This was partially due to the PTA not having documented instructions specifying the level of protection required, preferring that track workers make their own assessment based on their knowledge of the Network Rules.

“The ATSB found that, under these arrangements, track workers could make an incorrect assessment, placing themselves at a greater risk of being struck by a train.”

The key issues on the day of the incident seemed to arise from PTA’s position that maintenance workers are trained and competent to determine the appropriate level of worksite protection for any given job.

On the day of the incident, the Bureau said, the team of three workers should have assigned a lookout, to observe the site and warn other workers to leave the danger zone (within 3m of the outer rail on either side of the track) as trains were approaching.

The Bureau said no lookout had been assigned and no discussion had taken place regarding worksite protection – a discussion which is supposed to be led by the team’s assigned protection officer, who in this case was the man eventually killed by the oncoming train.

“In this occurrence, the ATSB found that the protection officer had not discussed the worksite protection method with the train controller or the contractors prior to commencing work,” the ATSB found.

“It was evident that the role of a lookout had not been allocated, as all three track workers continued to be engaged in maintenance tasks.

“At the time of the collision, the protection officer was involved with maintenance tasks rather than the assigned role of protection officer.”

In response to the incident, the PTA issued a safety alert stating all employees required to work within, or likely to enter, the danger zone must be protected from rail traffic.

The safety alert reinforced the requirements of lookout protection.

PTA has also introduced a new system of safe-working accreditation for work of this type, replacing the existing accreditation with “a more rigid tier-based process”.

“The ATSB is satisfied that the actions taken by the PTA significantly reduces the safety risk, and when combined with completion of the additional training should fully address this safety issue,” the Bureau concluded.

North Road level crossing in Ormond. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Level Crossing Removal Authority preparing Easter blitz

Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Authority has announced a ramp-up in work at a trio of level crossings during the Easter break, to accelerate their removal.

The authority, part of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, said last week it will use the Easter period  to knock off key chunks of work at level crossings at North Road in Ormond, McKinnon Road in McKinnon, and Centre Road in Bentleigh.

The Easter blitz follows an eight-day period of concentrated work which took place at the three crossings in late January.

All three crossing removals are under the same contract, held by a consortium of John Holland and KBR. The contract includes a fourth crossing, at Burke Road in Glen Iris, which had its boom gates removed earlier this year and is slated for completion by mid-2016.

Over Easter, construction crews will lay bridge decks at McKinnon and Centre roads, which the authority said will allow traffic to flow while the train line is dug underneath.

Meanwhile, demolition will begin at Ormond and McKinnon stations so they can be completely rebuilt. Bentleigh station will close in June for rebuilding as well.

The Level Crossing Removal Authority has informed residents of a series of bus replacement services for the train shutdowns that have to take place during the work, and have also arranged for road closures during certain stretches of the construction process.

According to the authority, the concentrated construction period over Easter will help crews have the crossings removed “months ahead of schedule”.

The removals are part of the Andrews Government’s plan to remove at least 20 level crossings by 2018, and 50 by 2022.

The funding plan for the significant removal program got a big boost earlier this week, with the State Government and Opposition agreeing to terms on the sale of the Port of Melbourne.

Freight rail track - stock - credit Shutterstock (8)

Queensland commits $12.5m to level crossing upgrades

The state government will invest $12.5 million to install additional protectoin mechanisms to improve safety at key regional level crossings in Queensland.

State transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe this week announced the funding, which followed the tabling of the final report into an incident involving a bus and the Kuranda Scenic Railway train at a level crossing in Cairns last year.

“I am thankful this incident was not more serious, however it reinforces the importance of promoting the safe use of our roads and rail network – particularly at open level crossings,” Hinchliffe said.

“While the Rail Regulator report found the Draper Street level crossing operated as designed and the train was driven appropriately, there is no doubt lessons can be learnt from the incident.

“The report identified some recommendations for both Cairns Regional Council and Queensland Rail to implement, which included maintaining regular contact and investigating the possibility of synchronising traffic and level crossing signals.

“Since the incident last year improvements have been made to the road markings at the crossing to help improve understanding of the need to stop for trains at the crossing.

“I am pleased that Queensland Rail and Cairns Regional Council are holding discussions about further possible enhancements to the Draper Street level crossing.”

Hinchliffe said work was already underway on a $1.5 million upgrade to the existing safety protection at the nearby Kate Street level crossing in Portsmith.

“Safety is a top priority for the Palaszczuk Government and level crossings are regularly reviewed to ensure the appropriate level of protection is in place,” he said.

“This $12.5 million in funding will ensure key level crossings across the state will be upgraded from passive to active protection by June 2017, with more mechanisms installed like flashing lights and boom gates.”

Hinchliffe said the number of near miss incidents on the Queensland Rail network has dropped by 17% over the past two years, but added, “we must remain vigilant when it comes to level crossing safety”.

“The Palaszczuk Government is committed to improving safety at level crossings through investment in education and engineering upgrades and innovations, however it is up to motorists to obey the signs and signals,” he said.

TrackSAFE Foundation executive director Naomi Frauenfelder welcomed the news.

“We are pleased the Queensland Government has responded to the challenge of keeping pedestrians, motorists and cyclists safer around key regional level-crossings across the state,” she said.

“With around 130 pedestrian level crossing incidents causing death or serious injury every year and an additional 20 collisions with vehicles, it’s pleasing to see the Queensland Government play their part for the people of Queensland and invest in level-crossing safety.”

NSW TrainLink train. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

NSW TrainLink customers get real-time data for trains, coaches

NSW transport minister Andrew Constance has welcomed the commissioning of a data feed from transport technology and communications firm 4Tel, which gives NSW regional customers access to real-time service information through their mobile phones.

NSWTrains rail and coach passengers can now check on their service through popular mobile apps TripView, NextThere, Arrivo Sydney, Triptastic, Metarove, abil.io, Moovit and Transit App.

“The data will be available across eight transport apps, providing regional customers with the most up-to-date information currently available,” Constance said, “with train updates recorded every 30 seconds, and coach services every few minutes.”

4Tel, an SME founded by Derel Wust in 2001, which operates out of Newcastle, generates the real-time information through its 4Trak application, which it has been using to track trains since 2008.

The 4Trak system collects real-time position information (track and GPS data) of trains and coaches on the NSW regional network, then compares that data to the planned timetable. It then calculates the estimated arrival times for passenger information systems, and for the external application feed.

Constance continued: “For the first time regional customers will have access to the same information about their services as our metropolitan customers …

“By using the real-time apps, customers will know when to leave home or work to get to the station or stop, and those meeting-up with different transport modes will be able to use real-time information to plan their entire trip door-to-door.”

NSW TrainLink customers now can access real-time information for the North Coast, North Western, Southern and Western regional train and coach service. The data will also be available for South Coast line customers, between Kiama and Bombaderry and the Blue Mountains, Hunter and Southern Highlands lines, TfNSW said.

“There have been over three million downloads of real-time data transport apps since they became available and 90 million requests for timetable data each month,” Constance said.

“Including regional data on the transport apps demonstrates the NSW Government’s commitment to improving public transport services right across NSW.”

$276m Sydney Trains ‘nerve centre’ announced

Transport for NSW has announced plans to build a $276 million operations centre for Sydney Trains at Green Square.

Transport minister Andrew Constance said the new ‘rail nerve centre’ would be built aimed at reducing train delays and providing faster information to customers.

“This new centre will ultimately improve train reliability for customers and when there are delays, information will be communicated much more quickly,” Constance said.

“This is a massive commitment to a transformational project that will help ensure Sydney Trains can continue to improve the service it provides to customers.”

TfNSW said it looked at similar facilities in London, Hong Kong and Tokyo to ensure the design of the building incorporates the latest technology to improve train services.

Sydney Trains boss Howard Collins said the organisation’s performance has been held back in recent years by outdated technology, and having to respond manually to incidents.

“At the moment we manage the trains and tracks, respond to incidents, communicate with customers and monitor their safety from different locations and in different ways,” Collins explained.

“One example is that during an incident, there are multiple phone calls made between the person reporting the incident, the person who controls the trains, another party in charge of fixing the fault and then the response team in the field.

“The new centre will mean each of these parties are informed the moment the issue is reported because they will all be in the same location, receiving more information, they can ensure the best response to get our customers moving again.”

The facility is set to open in 2018, according to TfNSW.

Burke Road level crossing boom gate removal. Photo: Level Crossing Removal Authority

Construction blitz to tackle three level crossings

Work to remove three level crossings in south-east Melbourne is being targeted through an eight-day “construction blitz,” acting premier James Merlino has said.

A concentrated period of work began on January 24 at the McKinnon Road, North Road and Centre Road level crossings, as part of the Victorian Government’s plan to remove 50 of the state’s worst road/rail crossings over an eight year term.

Merlino and acting public transport minister Luke Donnellan visited McKinnon Road to inspect the crossing removal works, as well as the rebuilding of the nearby McKinnon Station to suit the new rail alignment.

“This eight-day construction blitz will lay the ground work for construction of the train tracks underneath North, Centre and McKinnon Roads, safely separating trains from cars, trucks and pedestrians,” Merlino said.

Merlino said the three crossings were “nestled in the heart of busy shopping strips, and are some of Victoria’s most dangerous”.

The government attributes three deaths and “dozens” of near-misses to the three crossings in just over a decade. Statistics show boom gates at the crossings down 30 to 48 minutes during the two-hour morning peak, disrupting more than 60,000 cars and trucks, and three public bus routes.

During the concentrated construction period, new signalling will be installed at McKinnon Road, and the road surface will be reinforced. Centre Road will also be reinforced.

Seventeen 40-ton beams will be laid across North Road to form a bridge, which will allow the construction team to dig out the train line underneath, the government explained.

Platform works will be undertaken at Ormond Station, which is also being completely rebuilt as part of the North Road level crossing removal.

Local member for Bentleigh, Nick Staikos, was pleased with the work.

“These dangerous crossings are nestled in the heart of busy community shops, putting local lives at risk every single day,” he said. “That’s why we’re not wasting a moment removing them.”

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

Vic Parliament not happy with V/Line over wheel wear issues

Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allan has labelled Victorian regional operator V/Line’s “failure to adequately prepare for increased regional services” as “unacceptable,” after wheel wear issues forced rollingstock off the rails earlier this month.

A review will be undertaken into V/Line’s operations as a result of the recent maintenance ordeal.

A statement from Allan’s department over the weekend said the minister had been informed of the situation which she said included “a failure to plan for additional track-greasing – which has led to an escalated rate of wearing on the wheels of VLocity carriages”.

Allan blamed “this lack of preparation” for the cancellation of train services across the network.

“I am advised that these issues are being addressed through additional maintenance and the replacement of wheels,” Allan said, “and that services will progressively resume over the coming week.”

Services by VLocity trains – V/Line’s newest fleet of rollingstock, manufactured by Bombardier – were further disrupted last fortnight when a train failed to trigger boom gates at a level crossing in Dandenong.

Allan said the boom gate trigger issue was separate to the wheel wear issue.

“On the separate issue of a boom gate activation failure, restrictions imposed by Metro have now been lifted on the Bendigo line and will be lifted on the Seymour line on Saturday,” Allan explained.

“This will free up additional non-VLocity carriages to run on the Gippsland corridor, while testing on the VLocity fleet continues to allow the Gippsland line restrictions to be lifted. These restrictions are expected to be lifted by mid-late next week.”

Allan said the state government has instructed Public Transport Victoria to accelerate the rollout of axle counters across metropolitan lines used by V/Line services.

“The recent disruptions and poor performance of V/Line indicate a lack of capacity to deliver the services regional passengers expect and deserve,” she said.

“Cuts in the tens of millions of dollars by the former Liberal National Government left the operator on its knees, without the capacity to deliver the growing number of services that regional network needs.

“As a result, I have asked that an independent review of the operational capacity of  V/Line be undertaken, which will look at the structure, capability and expertise of the regional operator.”

All travel on V/Line services will be free from Saturday, January 23, to Sunday, January 31.

“Passengers without a ticket will be able to jump on any V/Line train or coach and not pay a cent,” Allan said.

“Those pass holders who have already paid for a ticket will be eligible for a refund.

“I know regional passengers are frustrated – I am frustrated too. That’s why we are doing everything we can to restore services and confidence to our regional train network.”

VLocity carriage. Photo: Creative Commons / Marcus Wong

Level crossing trigger failures have happened before: Donnellan

Victoria’s acting transport minister Luke Donnellan says he’s furious with the revelation that V/Line rollingstock has reportedly failed to trigger level crossing signals on a number of occasions dating back to 2011.

V/Line’s VLocity rollingstock has been banned from a number of sections of the Victorian regional and metropolitan network, after a train reportedly failed to trigger level crossing boom gates in Dandenong last week.

Now Donellan, talking with reporters this week, has revealed the recent incident may not have been the first of its kind.

“What’s been identified in the report was incidents in 2011 and ’12,” Donnellan was quoted by the ABC.

“It’s disappointing that that was the trigger to take action and comprehensively nothing was done.

“As to which particular agencies or so forth didn’t undertake their role, that’s what we’re working through currently.

“We’re furious and we need to get to the bottom of it.”

Donnellan did not specify what type of rollingstock was involved in past incidents.

Metro Trains has reportedly refused to confirm reports by the Herald Sun that a senior Metro engineer recommended short-term fixes to the issues in February 2013.

Donnellan told the press it was incredibly fortunate the issue had not caused a serious incident already.

“We’re trialling some track circuit assisters to see whether they’ll improve the issue with setting off the boom gates,” he said. “We’ve asked the agencies to get moving to get this fixed as soon as we can.”

The Rail Tram & Bus Union is calling this the “doomgate saga”, and was quick to highlight some potential culprits on Wednesday.

“The former Liberal State Government ripped $73 million from V/Line, also putting a two year freeze on the purchase of all new rolling stock, forcing it to do more with less,” the union’s state secretary Luba Grigorovitch said.

“V/Line has experienced huge increases in patronage and the introduction of the Regional Rail Link, without being properly funded to manage this growth.

“The consequences of failing to adequately maintain the rail network couldn’t be more serious.”

With a significant portion of its rollingstock out of service due to this issue and ongoing issues surrounding wheel wear, V/Line has replaced a number of its services with coaches.

Services are impacted on the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland lines.

V/Line train going through level crossing. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

Safety scare, wheel wear pulls VLocity trains off Gippsland line

Public Transport Victoria has confirmed VLocity trains have been removed from certain parts of the Melbourne network, after one train reportedly failed to trigger equipment at a level crossing in the Dandenong corridor last week.

The Age reported on Saturday that a VLocity train had failed to trigger boom gates at Progress Street in Dandenong on Friday, January 16.

PTV confirmed the network operators – Metro Trains Melbourne and state-owned regional operator V/Line – had chosen to ban the trains from certain parts of the network until the issue is resolved.

VLocity trains are the latest generation of rollingstock on the V/Line network.

“Metro and V/Line have jointly advised PTV that VLocity trains will not operate on parts of the metropolitan network while technical investigations are carried out,” PTV said on Saturday.

“VLocity trains continue to operate safely on the regional network. This decision is about ensuring the safety of rail services for passengers and the community.”

It is not yet known whether the reported level crossing error is linked to a wheel wear issue, which has seen some VLocity carriages removed from the network for maintenance.

“V/Line has identified higher than normal wheel wear on some VLocity carriages, over the past 30 days, which requires additional maintenance,” V/Line said on Monday, January 18.

“This means fewer carriages are available to operate the timetable and in some cases, train services will need to be replaced with coaches.”

V/Line said it is working closely with the trains’ manufacturer, Bombardier, to schedule the required maintenance and return the affected carriages to service as soon as possible.

“V/Line, Bombardier and an independent expert from the Institute of Rail Technology are investigating the cause of the issue.”

The ongoing issues have impacted services throughout the network, with some cancelled services replaced with coaches for the entire journey.

Most trains going through the Gippsland line, where the level crossing incident reportedly took place, are being replaced with coaches, while the operator’s older Sprinter and locomotive fleets, which have not been banned, have also been put to use on the line.

“Sprinter and locomotive-hauled trains … will operate through the metropolitan network to and from the city,” V/Line stated.

Mango Hill station on Moreton Bay Rail Link. Photo: Queensland Government

Moreton Bay Rail electrified, testing to begin

12.6km of overhead wiring systems have been switched on along the Moreton Bay Rail line, allowing developers to begin an extensive testing phase, Queensland transport minister Stuart Hinchliffe said on Wednesday.

The Moreton Bay Rail project connects six new stations in Brisbane’s north-east with the existing passenger line at Petrie.

Hinchliffe, who was recently added as minister for transport and the Commonwealth Games by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, said the rail line would mean more than 650 services between Brisbane and Kippa-Ring – at the end of the Redcliffe Peninsula – each week.

“Queensland Rail and the project team will be monitoring the track infrastructure and signalling equipment and undertaking speed testing to ensure trains are operating safely and efficiently along the new line,” the minister outlined.

“Over the past two and a half years, more than three million hours of work has gone into this project to reach this milestone.”

The new line features more than 44,000 sleepers, 100,000 tonnes of ballast and 170 kilometres of signalling cable along 60 kilometres of total narrow gauge track.

Warren Truss called the electrification a “significant milestone” for the federal, state and local government funded project.

“Turning on the power today is an enormous achievement for the project, and means the Moreton Bay community is one step closer to receiving train services for the very first time from mid this year,” Truss, the deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development.

“This is an exciting time for the project and means a new rail line, which has been eagerly awaited for the past 100 years, will soon become a reality.”

The $988 million project, approved by the Gillard Government shortly after the 2010 election, was jointly funded by the Commonwealth ($583 million), Queensland ($300 million) and Moreton Bay Regional Council ($105 million).

Queensland infrastructure minister Jackie Trad called electrification of the rail line “a critical milestone”.

“The new Moreton Bay Rail Line is the region’s biggest infrastructure project in more than a generation and has supported 800 jobs during construction,” Trad said.