Rail safety body voices concern over trains passing red signals

The rail industry’s independent safety body RSSB has asked if enough is being done to reduce the risk of a train accident from trains passing red signals.

July saw 41 trains pass red signals, the highest number in a single calendar month since October 2007.

In the last 12 months, 10 trains passed red signals and reached the ‘conflict point’, the position along the track at which a collision could theoretically take place. This is higher than the five-year average of between four and five, and the total for the last financial year 2018-9 which was seven. The risk from signals passed at danger (SPADs) has not been as high since September 2014.

RSSB chief executive Mark Phillips has written to all managing directors in Network Rail and train and freight operating companies, to highlight the latest data and ask if enough is being done, or whether more effort is needed in managing SPAD risk.

The warning comes close to the 20th anniversary of the Ladbroke Grove train crash, which killed 31 people and injured more than 250 people, and where the cause was a signal passed at danger.

In the last 20 years, the industry has reduced the risk from SPADs by more than 90%. It has been over 12 years since the last train accident involving fatalities, and Britain has one of the safest railway networks in Europe.

This is partly down to significant improvements in collaboration across the rail industry, and a shared commitment to monitor risk, as well as improved investigation processes which consider underlying causes.

Research has led to better engineering solutions, and a new understanding of the things that affect how people undertake their roles, so-called ‘human factors’. Findings from such research have led to the application of more advanced ergonomics and psychology behind drivers’ decision-making.

Breakthroughs are also being achieved in understanding the detail of SPAD risk with Big Data in collaboration with the University of Huddersfield. A new tool will draw on real-time train movement data to give a more in-depth picture of operational risk and understand which signals are approached at red most often.

However, RSSB has been keen to avoid any sense of complacency, and has asked its members whether enough is being done to address SPADs.

RSSB’s chief executive, Mark Phillips said: “It’s part of our role to be the railway’s critical friend, and provide our members with an independent assessment of the risk they’re facing. The 20th anniversary of Ladbroke Grove is a timely reminder of what can go wrong if we don’t keep our eyes on the ball. We need to look at current train protection technology and industry initiatives, and ask whether enough is being done.”

Mark Phillips wrote to the managing directors in Network Rail and train operating companies on Thursday 19 September – you can download a copy of the letter here:
https://www.rssb.co.uk/-/media/Project/RSSB/Platform/Documents/Public/Public-content/Insight-and-News/mark-phillips-spad-letter-19-september-2019.pdf