Signals Passed At Danger

Signals passed at danger (SPADs) are a key focus area for Railway Safety. While the number of SPADs have been decreasing steadily since 1996 they still have the potential to cause multi-fatality accidents such as train collisions and derailments. This was brought home to the railway industry by the accident at Ladbroke Grove on 5 October 1999 with its tragic consequences in terms of loss of life and injury.

There are actions and initiatives, both national and local, which seek to reduce the incidence of SPADs and the risk they generate, including the introduction of Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS).

Railway Safety monitors SPAD investigations, and performance by train operators and Railtrack zones. Detailed information compiled in monthly SPAD reports are sent to Her Majesty’s Rail Inspectorate (HMRI), within the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and are also available on this web-site.

National SPAD Focus Group (NSFG)

Railway Safety also funds and facilitates the National SPAD Focus Group (NSFG), a cross industry group, which includes representatives from train operators, Railway Safety, Railtrack PLC, HMRI, trades unions, the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), contractors and the wider industry.

NSFG is chaired by Railway Safety Director, Policy and Standards, Aidan Nelson, and facilitates the progressive improvement of SPAD management through the identification, discussion, development and promotion of justifiable and potentially effective measures. It is an independent focus group, with no statutory responsibilities. Specifically, NSFG aims to:

  • Discuss and develop initiatives
  • Identify and promote the adoption of good practice
  • Promote lessons learned from SPAD investigations
  • Link effectively with Railtrack’s zonal SPAD Reduction And Mitigation (SPADRAM) groups
  • Consider Railway Group Standards
  • Identify and promote the need for research
  • Review SPAD data and make recommendations
  • Champion the effective sharing of SPAD information
  • Sponsor various methods of industry communication on SPADs
  • Set Railway Group Safety Plan objectives
  • A newsletter called ASPECTS (PDF format: 16KB), which summarises the topics covered at NSFG, is produced four times a year.

Five key priority areas

The NSFG has developed five key areas where it believes that united and sustained industry management effort would significantly reduce the risk arising from SPADs. These priority areas, and their ‘success factors’, were devised to help the industry focus action to minimise, through good practice, the SPADs that will not be eventually prevented by Automatic Train Protection (ATP) systems:

  • Achieving 100% professional driving
  • Clearing & preventing SPAD traps
  • Harmonising signal sighting process & competencies
  • Avoid Start Against Signal SPADs at platforms
  • Introducing 21st Century route knowledge

Research and development

The NSFG is a stakeholder group for some of the outputs of SPAD related research undertaken as part of Railway Safety’s Research Programme (RSRP).

With the full installation of automatic train protection still a long way off, it is recognised that short-term benefits will result from changes in policies, procedures and attitudes. So, many of the potential SPAD research projects are about understanding and managing people, to help them work more safely within the constraints of the railway environment over the next few years. Many areas where a strong need for research has been expressed include: safer rostering, driver selection and training, driver attention, the effect of ‘in-cab cues’ and safety critical communication. These areas are being addressed through close liaison with the Railway Safety Human Factors team.