Understanding human factors in freight train incident risk

What are the key HOF issues?

Great Britain’s National Freight Safety Group (NFSG) identified a lack of understanding on the condition of freight vehicles prior to their entry to the rail network from freight yards. RSSB’s Annual Health and Safety Report (2020) highlighted that, in the previous 2 years, there had been a rise in the number of potentially higher risk train accidents for freight trains. Over 350 freight trains were stopped on the network due to issues with vehicles, for example handbrakes being left on in the wagon set. A project was started to identify underlying risk factors to freight vehicle condition, develop a risk management plan and standardise examples of good practice.

What did you do?

The project undertook three key activities:

  • An analysis of 31 freight preparation incident reports using the RSSB Human Factors Framework to identify key issues and trends within available incident data.
  • A quantitative survey of 221 freight preparation staff, followed by 26 interviews, to understand the tasks and challenges staff face in preparing freight trains.
  • Observations at freight yards across Great Britain to see challenges in context and identify different approaches and good practices used to accomplish freight train preparation.

What were the results?

The analysis of incident reports and surveys revealed several conditions that influenced the safe preparation of freight trains including complexity of working arrangements, the maintenance of freight train assets and the planning and resourcing of work. This was confirmed through onsite observations which also identified the unique characteristics of different freight yards that showed many challenges were site specific. In light of the findings, freight companies are working together, in collaboration with RSSB and Newcastle University, to develop a standard for freight train preparation, measure levels of complexity at freight sites, and better understand the constraints that impact work planning.

Author: James Lonergan, RSSB