The risk from trains passing red signals has been cut by over 90% in the last 20 years but the sector is still committing to even tougher safety targets, according to rail industry body RSSB.
19 September is the 20th anniversary of the tragic train accident in Southall. Seven people were killed and 139 injured when a High Speed Train from Swansea passed a signal at danger and then collided with a freight train which was crossing its path. Just two years later, 31 died and over 500 were injured in a train crash at Ladbroke Grove, also caused by a signal passed at danger (SPAD).
Since that time no one has died as a result of a SPAD. Investment in the Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS), together with ongoing analysis of the risk, better briefing and training of drivers form just part of industry’s effort to bring the risk from SPADs down.
Industry’s efforts to reduce SPAD risk have been informed by nearly 100 separate pieces of research over the last 15 years. This has led to a sea change in industry understanding of “human factors” in the underlying causes of SPADs, including signal design and layouts, driver competence management – such as route knowledge, personal factors - particularly fatigue and health, driver workload, non-technical skills, safety critical communications, as well as the things that cause trains to approach red aspects in the first place.
While huge strides have been made in safety, rail companies are aware of the dangers of complacency and have committed to reduce risk even further, to reduce and sustain SPAD related risk to a third in 2020 and a quarter by 2025 of what the risk was in 2006, during a time when the railway network is expected to become its busiest ever. The targets have been agreed this week in the first phase of a new strategy by RSSB’s members including Network Rail and the train and freight operating companies.
RSSB’s Director of System Safety and Health, George Bearfield, said, Southall was a huge tragedy, and we must first and foremost take time to remember what this did to families and friends of those who died and were injured 20 years ago, as well as everyone who played a part in the response, at the time, and in the learning that followed.
20 years on and the railways are much safer with the risk from signals passed at danger a fraction of what it was. Industry wants to build on this success and has set itself tougher targets to reduce the risk even further.