Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation

Future crash investigators getting unique experience in Bundaberg

CQUniversity’s Bundaberg campus offers students a rare opportunity to get real, hands-on experience in rail safety, derailment and collision investigations.

Australia and New Zealand’s rail industry makes no bones about it: Safety is a top priority. Rail is a sector which prides itself on being safer than competing modes in many cases, for workers, passengers, and the general public.

It comes as little surprise, then, that when an incident does occur in the rail sector, all stakeholders are keen to understand the contributing factors involved, to reduce the likelihood of circumstances repeating themselves in the future.

The most important people in this process are accident investigators. Ensuring these people have the appropriate training, and a thorough understanding of the dynamics at play in any rail incident, is critical.

CQUniversity Rail Accident Investigation lecturer Adrian Ponton says the university’s Crash Lab offers a unique opportunity to give the next generation of accident investigators the best possible training.

“By having the Crash Lab we’re actually able to engage with the students in a safe and controlled environment,” Ponton explains to Rail Express.

“We can create the elements of a rail environment, without having to contend with an operational rail corridor. There’s no trains coming down the adjacent tracks, but equally we’re able to create some very realistic scenarios involving train derailments, collisions, and so on.”

The Crash Lab plays a critical role in three of the rail courses run by CQUni.

One week of practical training at the Crash Lab is a key component in the Certificate IV Rail Safety Investigation course, and a pair of short courses, Fundamentals of Rail Investigation and Undertake Derailment Investigation, also include training at the Crash Lab.

“The courses target people who are in the industry and are looking to enhance their professional development,” Ponton says. “Students commonly have engineering and operations backgrounds, and are often looking for a career in accident investigation, safety, compliance, incident response, and so on.”

Ponton says the team is always looking into future expansions for the Crash Lab, with more track, wagons and locomotives all on the cards.

More than this, Ponton explains, there is significant scope for the Crash Lab to offer companies the opportunity to have their staff trained in specific aspects of rail incident response and investigation.

“If there is industry demand we can offer other relevant courses,” he says. “We’re talking to some rail operators at the moment about bespoke courses.”

A wealth of experience

The Certificate IV course in Rail Safety Investigation is in accordance with Industry Skills Council requirements and rail industry standards, and covers rail safety law, rail safety investigation, and recording and managing evidence.

Much of this work takes place at the Crash Lab, which Ponton describes as one of the “jewels in the crown” for CQUni’s rail training offering.

Another jewel in the crown, he says, is the experience boasted by the Lab’s collection of staff .

Ponton himself has more than 40 years in the rail sector, including 10 in rail safety compliance. Joe Thompson heads the Rail Safety Investigation course. Thompson, who helped develop much of the training program at the Crash Lab, has more than 30 years of experience in the rail sector, first as a train driver then in operational rail safety with Queensland Rail, then as manager of Operations and Systems for the Rail Industry Safety and Standards Board. Then there’s people like Andy Corson-Crook, who has more than 40 years of experience providing safety advice and undertaking rail safety investigations for Queensland Rail, and Tony Limpus, an integral part of the CQUni team whose expertise in risk assessment and change management is essential.

“You’re talking about a team of people with decades of capable experience,” Ponton says.

CQUniversity offers more than 300 TAFE and university courses online and on campus, with both accredited and non-accredited training in rail safety, work health and safety, and logistics.

To find out more, visit the university’s website,