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COMMUTERS are being put at risk by train drivers who run red lights while chatting, speeding, eating snacks or daydreaming, as the rate of close-calls climbs.
But last year’s timetable bungle was also partly blamed for an error that saw a driver blow through a red signal by 150m and ignore a back-up alarm warning.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the bungles outlined in official safety reports that have seen trains chug past stops by as much as 900m, with several having the potential for collision as ignorant passengers sat on board.
Safety investigation reports obtained under Right to Information laws identified drivers who were speeding, chatting with a guard, eating, distracted by a crackly radio, had their emergency broadcast turned down, or were thinking about personal issues when they recorded a Signal Passed at Danger (SPAD).
Several would have headed into the path of another train had emergency systems not kicked in. All were cleared for drugs and alcohol, and fatigue was thought to be a contributory factor in just one case, although another driver admitted he had got behind the controls after only five hours’ sleep.
Queensland Rail yesterday refused to answer questions about disciplinary action taken against SPAD drivers.
Documents outline a December 11 incident in which a Shorncliffe service damaged track points after it drove on to a section set for a Cleveland-bound train that had passed by just 22 seconds earlier between Nundah and Northgate stations. The Shorncliffe driver read the wrong light and thought a warning alarm that sounded was a “fault”. It wasn’t until network control sent an emergency call that she braked to stop, overshooting the signal by 147m.
Safety investigation reports have showed the number of times trains record a Signal Passed At Danger. File picture: Tara Croser.The investigation found that “the October timetable required a number of complex train movements through Northgate Station”.
An investigation into another SPAD at Northgate on November 20 found the “potential to result in a flanking collision” as two trains headed towards the platform on the same piece of track.
Both trains were ordered to apply emergency brakes when one driver misread a signal and was travelling too fast on approach to the red.
QR’s figures show the incidents of SPAD events trending up since January 2016.
There have been 27 since August last year, not including those caused by third party operators Aurizon and Pacific National, and the organisation is averaging one a week.
QR chief executive Nick Easy said the organisation was reviewing its SPAD Risk Reduction Strategy, but he said the number of events was consistent with the monthly average for the past five years of 3.6.
“Safety is Queensland Rail’s absolute priority and we have a comprehensive strategy in place and a broad range of safety controls, from engineering design of the signalling system to driver training and cultural awareness programs,” he said. “SPAD incidents are an industry-wide occurrence, but when you look at the data our strategy is working.”
Transport Minister Jackie Trad (pictured) said she was confident QR was “doing everything it can to improve safety and reduce SPADs”.
Rail Tram and Bus Union state secretary Owen Doogan said no SPADs had resulted in injuries and the current rate was “pretty good”.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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