I noted in a recent Trains Magazine article that the USA freight railroads carry 2 trillion tons of freight each year. On that tonnage they probably have less accidents pro-rata than we do. So their so called unsafe systems are probably safer than ours and at a lower cost as they have the most efficient freight rail system in the world. Train crew in Australia are a very precious bunch and are paid very well to do a job with reasonably easy entry requirements.
I don't have the safety stats on me at the moment, and indeed a comparison between mainlines using American vs British precepts may not be the easiest given the huge difference in traffic, but certain aspects of typical American safe working methods have on many occasions led to crashes. These methods include things that have not been standard practice on mainlines in the UK or most State government railways of Australia for more than a century like facing points without approach locking, locking or fouling bars, or track circuit control; very short or non-existent overlaps, a lack of proper interlocking between automatic block signalling and points, simultaneous reception at crossing loops without trap points, and large amounts of permissive working. The safety integrity of systems using these methods is by definition lower, but usually also much cheaper and sometimes quicker. It is my understanding that at least some of this persists to the present, and in some cases it has returned after APB or CTC has been ripped out as too expensive to replace/maintain.
The above characteristics do not necessarily apply to an ATMS line, of course; it was a general reference to a cultural shift in safeworking that has occurred in Australia (some parts more than others), largely to save money.
More specifically, my concern is that a reversion to nineteenth century style paper orders, should that path be chosen for emergency working, could reduce the level of safety compared to what is currently in place in some areas that could be subject to ATMS under the initial ARTC programme, assuming it doesn't get the axe, or at a later date. It does appear that computer verified track warrants are the preferred option, but that may not always be an option.
As for work site protection, whose fault is if some worker stands in the 6ft whilst a train approaches as happened last weekend in NSW or the protection officer fails to acknowledge a warning toot from a train driver.
An 'as low as reasonably practicable' risk based approach to worksite protection would not go astray. Yes, individual front line workers have a responsibility for safety, but they do not design the safety systems. They can only work within the safety systems provided, be they adequate or deficient, using the skills they have acquired through training and experience, and they do make mistakes on occasion. A good case could be made that there are serious deficiencies present in some of the worksite protection methods currently in use in Australia.
Sometimes an operator will take all practicable measures to ensure safety, but it is established fact that this does not always happen, leaving potential risks uncontrolled and susceptible to human error.
The fact that:
- an accident has not happened yet, or
- the list of recorded errors or incidents is short or non-existent, or
- front line workers have been publicly blamed for past incidents rather than the system, or
- a State rail safety regulator has approved a safety system
is not proof in itself that a system or rule is particularly safe, either.