Thursday, February 2, 2023
A train driver who put lives at risk after inexplicably “losing” four carriages and failing to take immediate action to secure and recover them has been issued a $30,000 fine for two breaches of Australia’s Rail Safety National Law (RSNL).
ONRSR has welcomed the decision in the New South Wales Magistrate’s Court which was handed down late last year.
The offences arose from an incident in October 2020 when a train traveling between Broken Hill and Parkes experienced a loss of air pressure indicating a likely uncoupling of wagons near Kaleentha in western New South Wales.
With the train being more than 1100 metres long, the driver initially only inspected a little over half its length before returning to the lead locomotive hoping to rectify the problem by resetting the train computer. When this failed to restore air pressure a second inspection was undertaken and located an open-air tap on the ‘last’ wagon. No end of train marker was identified, and the identification of the last wagon was not correlated with the train consist documentation.
The train then continued for another 80 kilometres with the driver apparently unaware the last four wagons of the consist had become separated and been left behind unprotected on the main line.
Exacerbating an already dangerous situation, the uncoupled wagons were obscured to other rail traffic by a rise in topography at the location.
Despite the assistant driver being uneasy and wanting to double check the end of the train he was told by his more senior colleague “not to worry about it”.
The senior driver was convicted of two offences for failing to comply with his duty under s56 of the RSNL, which outlines the duties of rail safety workers, key among them being the need to, when carrying out rail safety work:
“So the four trains [sic] … carelessly allowed to drift to a standstill and in effect abandoned, if they had been slammed into, it could have killed the driver and driver assist of the next train or others,” Magistrate Glenn Bartley said.
Even having considered the offender’s previously clean record, Magistrate Bartley imposed the $30,000 fine, adding it was important other rail safety workers take notice of the decision and are aware of their safety duties under the national legislation.
“General deterrence must be given great weight because this is a regulatory offence – it is a safety offence, the public are entitled to protection, as are other rail workers,” he said.
Acting ONRSR Chief Executive and National Rail Safety Regulator, Peter Doggett said the sheer seriousness of this incident had led to the regulator’s decision to pursue it.
“No decision to prosecute is ever taken lightly. Rather it is always in the interests of rail safety,” he said.
“As a general rule ONRSR will focus on organisational and systemic failures when it comes to prosecutions. However, we simply cannot ignore the blatantly irresponsible actions of individuals that threaten the safety of others who are relying on their colleague to work safely.”
“ONRSR’s actions and this result should serve as a timely warning to all rail safety workers that they have important legal responsibilities and is a reminder to rail transport operators that they should make sure their workers, including contractors, are aware of those legal obligations.”