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Freight sector told to review fatigue management systems following SPADs

Following two signal passed at danger (SPAD) incidents on the same freight route last year, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has called for the freight industry to carry out a review of its fatigue management system.

The two SPADs involved DB Cargo trains on the Acton to Westbury route. One train passed a signal at Reading Westbury Line Junction at 08.22 on 28 March 2015 after the driver momentarily fell asleep. A second then passed a signal at Ruscombe Junction at 06.11 on 3 November 2015.

In the first case, the driver had worked early morning shifts for four of the five previous days, and also suffered from a medical condition which affected his sleep. The day before the incident, he had started a shift at 2am after sleeping for three hours.

In the second case, the driver had been sleeping for roughly four hours a night in the days leading up to the incident.

The RAIB report said: “Both SPAD incidents occurred because the drivers were too fatigued to properly control their trains.”

Simon French, chief inspector of rail accidents, said the report has highlighted the ‘real-world’ experience of freight train drivers.

“By necessity, many freight trains must operate at night and many drivers are required to work long and irregular shifts, often during night hours,” he said. “This means that drivers must accommodate their sleep, home responsibilities, social life and commuting in the hours that remain – and this can be a challenge. For this reason I urge freight operating companies, their employees and trade unions to work together to find practical ways of reducing fatigue at work.”

The RAIB recommended that the whole freight industry carries out a review of its fatigue management system. In addition, it said that DB Cargo and other freight companies should submit a research proposal to the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) to carry out more detailed analysis of incidents of the problem.

French said an effective fatigue management system should “draw on the experience of drivers”.

The RAIB also found that the Westbury depot displayed “insufficient supervision and management”. The depot had four other SPADs in 2015. Fatigue was present in two of these, although this was not ruled to be the primary cause.

The RAIB found that high management turnover and a lack of qualified driver managers contributed to problems monitoring and reporting fatigue at the depot. Drivers were also working high levels of overtime to cover staff shortages.

There were also problems with the rest facility at Acton depot. Both drivers tried to use it before their shifts, but the first driver said it was too noisy and the second one found it was already occupied.

The RAIB said that since the incidents, DB Cargo had introduced new management structures at Westbury, moved the rest facility at Acton, and given both drivers development plans with additional monitoring and assessments.

RTM contacted DB Cargo for a comment but did not receive a reply at the time of publication.


Lee Bayliss, head of safety and risk at DB Cargo UK, said: "Fatigue is an issue we take very seriously and we have implemented robust processes and policies to manage it. This includes establishing a Fatigue Working Group to integrate best practice from the Office of Rail Regulators and the Railway Safety Standards Board in order to continually improve procedures and standards.

"Our aim is to ensure we have an engaged, responsible and safe workforce. The ability for all colleagues to openly report issues of fatigue is fundamental in constantly identifying improvements to safety standards. Therefore, this year we introduced a new, confidential Fatigue Report Form.

"We are also working closely with the RSSB, Network Rail, other train operating companies and the trade unions on a number of fatigue projects."

(Image c. Network Rail)

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Danial Rolph   17/07/2017 at 10:40

There is a company listed on the London Stock exchange called Seeing Machines which monitor train drivers for fatigue and mobile phone use in real time and wake them up or alert them to the distraction behaviour in real time. This tech is being introduced in cars this year (General Motors in the US) and has been in trucks and CAT mining equipment for a decade. It reduces fatigue events in trucks by over 90% and saves lives, check them out...

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