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HSE publishes details or rail signals passed at danger

  HSE : ThursdayJanuary 27, 2000
Figures published today by the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) HM Railway Inspectorate show that during December 1999 Railtrack PLC reported 22 signals passed at danger (SPADs) across their network. This is a reduction from the same period in previous years - 36 in December 1997 and 35 in 1998 - and is the lowest number of SPADs recorded in any month since 1990.
These figures when taken together with those since August, show that the total number of SPADs has been less than or equal to the average for that month over the last 6 years. This indicates that the measures being taken by the industry to cut down on SPADs are beginning to have a positive effect. However, it is still too early to draw definitive conclusions.

The monthly report for October explained the different criteria used by Railtrack and HSE to assess the severity and significance of a SPAD. In future, a serious SPAD will be defined as one which falls into Railtrack's severity category 3 to 8, which includes any SPADs that cause injury or damage as well as any that exceed the normal 2OO yard overlap distance.

Using this new definition means there were three serious events in December which compare favourably with 14 in October and 10 in November. In each of these three cases the train went over the 2OO yard overlap distance but there was no actual damage or injury caused.

On December 4, the industry implemented a new standard requiring investigations to be completed within eight weeks. As a result Railtrack's investigation reports are starting to be received by HSE and 29 are currently under review. As a result HSE has identified some areas where further work is required in the investigation process and this is being taken up with the respective train operators and Railtrack offices.

The results of some of the incidents where HSE had decided to carry out its own independent investigation are reported. The two SPAD incidents at signal CQ427 at Cowlairs were caused by drivers failing to apply defensive driving techniques. A recent timetable change has resulted in the signal being more often at danger as trains approach, and it is likely that the drivers incorrectly anticipated that the signal would clear. Both Railtrack and HMRI are examining the sighting of the signal to see whether improvements need to be made.

The SPADs at CY16 at Clapham Junction and SY231 at Salisbury occurred during shunting movements and the consequences of passing these signals at danger were unlikely to be serious. HSE is following up both incidents with Railtrack and the relevant train operators to reduce the possibility of further SPAD incidents occurring.

A similair shunting operation incident at signal RY59, Rugby had the potential to be more serious. If the timings had been different, the train could have been struck by a Virgin express bound for London. Action by the signaller prevented this. HMRI has required a 'shunt neck' siding to be reinstated (this system avoids trains having to shunt onto the main line) and is reviewing driver's route knowledge requirements with Connex, the train operator.

The SPADs at Ipswich, at Winchmore Hill and at Primrose Hill occurred while hansignallers were stationed at the signals because of work taking place on the railway. This requires the signals to be maintained at red while the handsignaller instructs the driver to pass the signal when it is safe to do so. The SPAD at Ipswich occurred when the handsignaller incorrectly authorised the driver to proceed past the signal. Fortunately, the driver was able to stop short of a train standing ahead. The handsignaller is to be retrained.

The Winchmore Hill SPAD, mentioned in the previous monthly report, occurred because of a misunderstanding between the train driver and the handsignaller. Work on the line ahead had been completed at the time of the incident therefore the consequences of passing this signal at danger were low. The handsignaller is being retrained and the driver is to be disciplined.

The Primrose Hill SPAD happened as a train left an engineer's worksite damaging a set of points. There were failures in communication between the person in charge of the blockage of the line to enable the work to take place, the signaller and the handsignaller. HMRI is still following up this incident with the companies concerned.

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Health & Safety Executive


Health & Safety Executive

SPAD report for December 1999
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This file last updated: Friday, 04-Feb-2000 21:04:06 EST
Copyright © David Fry 1999