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STRESSED, distracted and unhappy Queensland Rail train drivers were behind the controls during some of the worst errors jeopardising passenger safety on the rail network.
A Sunday Mail investigation into a reported spike in the number of train drivers failing to stop at red signals shows the incidents were caused by everything from a driver’s fear about running late to chatty train guards in the driver’s cab and a cabin mishap involving a controller becoming entangled in a telephone cord, causing a power surge.
The incidents are detailed in 24 separate “Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD)” investigations by QR obtained by The Sunday Mail under Right to Information legislation.
Others remain under investigation by the rail safety regulator, including a near-miss on January 10 creating an “imminent risk” of a head-on between two trains at Bowen Hills.
There has been a reported spike in the number of Queensland Rail train drivers failing to stop at red signals.QR faced its worst year in almost a decade for SPAD incidents last year, with 38 cases.
Rail bosses are so concerned they appointed a special taskforce to arrest the upward trend.
In one case, a train driver failed to stop at a red signal in July last year after becoming distracted by fears the train would miss QR’s stringent on-time running targets.
On-time-running is tied to executive bonuses for meeting targets and hefty penalties for not.
It is used by the State Government as a yardstick for QR’s performance, but has been accused of encouraging “station skipping”, where all-station trains are suddenly flicked to run express.
As previously revealed, the trains are then counted as on-time, helping QR meet the nation’s toughest target of 95 per cent of trains arriving within four minutes of the scheduled time.
QR investigators found that the primary cause of the July 2017 incident was a driver becoming “distracted by on-time running requirements and allowing their attention to be drawn away from the primary task of observing signals and responding (to the red signal).”
As passenger train TP37 zoomed toward Albion station that month, the driver’s thoughts were fixed on how the train could ever arrive on time after a series of delays.
A track closure and speed restrictions meant it was running nine minutes late when the driver’s thoughts “digressed” to the domino effect this would have on his later journeys.
It was at this point the driver realised the train was about to whiz by a red light.
The driver hit the emergency brake, stopping 1m beyond the red signal.
In another case that month, a driver stopped 95m passed a red signal. The driver had been reading documents on approaching the signal to try overcome a faulty indicator.
He passed QR’s fatigue management test, but nonetheless reported “he always feels fatigued”.
Three other incidents were caused by chatty train guards distracting the driver.
A “short conversation” with a guard about a “pay slip they wanted to obtain before going home that day” led to a distracted driver running a red signal in July 2017.
Then last October, another driver failed to stop when a guard entered the driver cab.
QR chief executive Nick Easy said a new taskforce implementing extra safety controls and new initiates. Picture: Adam ArmstrongLast January, another guard-driver “catch up” saw a train miss a red signal at Taringa by 37m.
Another train failed to stop on November 5 last year at Central Station after a phone cord in the cabin caught onto a power controller “causing a surge of power to the train.”
And on January 24, a driver missed a stop after becoming distracted by thoughts of an upcoming break, triggering an hour-long delay.
Days later, another driver was “reflecting on personal issues” and had earlier viewed an upsetting Facebook post when he stopped 150m down the line from a red signal at Walloon.
He couldn’t say when he saw the post, but told investigators it was not while driving.
The driver conceded he shouldn’t have turned up to work, but had previously been made to feel guilty by a roster clerk for reporting unfit for duty.
QR has rejected a link between the number of SPADs on the network and train crew supply.
Chief executive Nick Easy said a SPAD prevention taskforce had in February begun implementing extra safety controls and new initiates.
Mr Easy said it had led to a “stabilisation” of the rate of SPADs last year, which he said had fallen more than five per cent between January and May.
MISSED RED LIGHTS2017
Jul 4: Driver misses red signal between Roma St and Milton after becoming distracted.
Jul 6: Driver passes red signal at Shorncliffe after reading train documents.
Jul 13: Driver worried about running late and breaching
on-time running requirements misses red signal by 1m.
Jul 19: Red signal incident causes a more than one-hour delay near Bowen Hills.
Jul 25: Driver distracted by a conversation with a guard about a payslip when the train goes through red at Normanby.
Jun 30: Driver at Wellington Point goes through yellow signal as it turns red, coming to a stop 70m down the line.
Aug 18: Train goes through red signal, which had changed to allow another train to pass in front. The driver had bronchitis but recorded an “acceptable” fatigue score.
Aug 19: Driver looking at wrong signal fails to stop at a red, stopping about 135m later. Another train had been due to cross the tracks about 100m up the line.
Aug 20: Red signal missed at Roma St when the driver mistakes it for green.
Aug 23: Trainee driver runs red signal due to “inattentional blindness” caused by concentrating on the task of approaching a station.
Aug 26: Driver distracted by person on platform stops 60m past red signal at Bowen Hills.
Sep 5: Driver looking at the wrong signal stops 468m from the potential point of conflict with another train.
Sep 5: Empty passenger train at Roma St stops 170m past a red signal after driver is distracted by “personal emotional thoughts”.
Oct 22: Driver runs a red signal at Normanby after being distracted by a guard in the cab.
Oct 29: Driver suffering “expectation bias” thinks a red signal is about to turn green when it doesn’t.
Nov 5: Phone cord catches on power controller, causing a power surge. Train passes red by 3m.
Nov 24: Driver inattention causes 44-min delay by failing to stop on red at Lindum.
Dec 12: Driver distracted by a radio conversation about an air leak and runs a red signal.
Dec 28: Train runs a red after the signal’s light bulb blows.
Jan 16: Red passed at Petrie.
Jan 23: Driver distracted by a catch-up with a guard fails to stop at red at Taringa.
Jan 27: Driver becomes distracted by thoughts about a personal issue when he goes through a red signal at Walloon, going another 150m.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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