Poor communication needs to be resolved to prevent inadvertent speeding by trains during blanket emergency speed restrictions (BESRs), says the Rail Accident Investigation Branch in a safety briefing to the industry.
Investigating four ‘overspeed’ incidents during hot weather on July 18/19, RAIB discovered that confusion over where the BESRs started and finished, as well as the routes to which they applied, were contributory factors.
In the worst case, a Penzance-Paddington train travelled at 125mph between Bristol and Swindon, where the BESR was 60mph. The driver had checked with the signaller to ascertain whether the BESR applied, and the signaller said it did not.
There were no consequences from the overspeeds, which had been put in place owing to the danger of buckled rails.
RAIB found that BESR notices do not always display the information in a way that can be easily understood and remembered by drivers, with many areas listed on the same notice. This was exacerbated by BESRs applying at different times on neighbouring routes, or when they crossed a Network Rail boundary.
While NR can set up reminders to be broadcast by the GSM-R railway radio system, triggered automatically when trains pass specific locations, this was not used on the Western and Wales routes. All the overspeed incidents occurred in these areas. NR has now started using the reminder broadcasts.
RAIB says that safety-critical documents (such as late notices) should be formatted to assist understanding and recall. It also advises that “appropriate methods, including all available technology” should be used to ensure messages reach the intended staff.
Also reinforced is the importance of staff ensuring that they have read and fully understood information, that they brief this to other staff taking over from them (such as signallers), and that they have made arrangements to assist them recalling the information when required (such as when a driver contacts a signaller).