Operations and Maintenance, Passenger Rail, Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand), Safety

Queensland Rail safety actions from near collisions with excavator

excavator collision


Queensland Rail has taken a number of safety actions after near collisions between two passenger trains and an excavator which had driven onto an active section of track in Brisbane.

An Australian Transport Safety Bureau final investigation report sad that during preparations for a planned works closure of the rail line between Brisbane’s Thorneside and Birkdale stations on the evening of March 7, 2020, the machine strayed onto a section of track that was still in operation.

As a Queensland Rail suburban passenger train approached at over 90 km/h, the train driver saw the excavator and applied the emergency brake.

The excavator operator also saw the train, and removed the machine from the tracks, with footage showing the excavator clearing the running line less than one second before the train passed at about 61 km/h.

After the train stopped, it was then approved to proceed, because the network control officer (NCO) was told the excavator was clear of the tracks, despite it still being within the three-metre danger zone.

Then, as the excavator operator was directed to remove the machine from the danger zone, another suburban passenger train passed through the site.

During this second near collision, the excavator operator jumped clear down an embankment to escape danger.

The ATSB’s investigation concluded a range of factors contributed to the near collisions with the excavator. The final report notes a number of communication processes were limited and unclear, leading some individuals to misinterpret information, and some to unintentionally relay incorrect information.

Among the contributing factors, the ATSB found the Queensland Network Rules and Procedures did not provide sufficient guidance for rail safety workers to ensure they used standardised, rail-specific terminology when communicating safety-critical information.

Additionally, a number of issues were identified with the work group’s pre-start briefing, including the fact that the lead protection officer (PO), assistant PO and excavator operator were not involved.

ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said substandard network pre-start briefings and communication irregularities had been identified as contributors to railway accidents in Australia and abroad.

“Despite this being well documented, rail infrastructure managers and track workers continue to experience issues with the application of effective safety-critical communication, and assuring network pre-start briefings are conducted in accordance with procedures designed to manage safety risks,” he said.

“It is essential all workers attend pre-start briefings, prior to entering the rail corridor, and fully understand the worksite protection that is in place.”

As a result of the incident, Queensland Rail issued a critical safety alert to all relevant staff, outlining a number of key actions, including that all workers must attend a pre-start briefing prior to entering the rail corridor.

Queensland Rail also entered an enforceable voluntary undertaking with the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, committing to 13 initiatives to improve planning processes for track access, and a range of other safety steps.

Queensland Rail Head of South East Queensland Neil Backer said the operator’s first priority was the safety of its employees, its network and the communities in which it operates, and that the final report stated that safety issues identified in the investigation have been addressed.

“We are extremely grateful that no one was physically injured in these incidents,” he said.