Network Rail regional trial of geofencing to improve trackworker safety
The following article is by Claire Smith and is featured in the New Civil Engineer.
As the Rail Accident Investigation Branch announced an investigation into a near miss with trackworkers at Paddington station last month, Network Rail’s latest board minutes reveal that its trackworker safety taskforce is trialling new technology in the Southern region to improve trackworker safety.
The taskforce was launched after two trackworkers were killed near Margham, South Wales in July 2019 following which Network Rail chief executive Andrew Haines committed to improving safety. Two further track workers have been killed since the South Wales incident and there have been several incidents resulting in serious injuries and a number of near misses.
The 2019 fatalities led to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) to issue an improvement notice to Network Rail, which the ORR lifted last month following a 98% reduction in red zone unassisted lookout working since July 2019. The ORR also reported that Network Rail had achieved 12 months without a trackworker fatality and the moving annual average of track work related near misses fell by 70%.
However, initiatives to improve working practices, including those to reduce risk to trackworker safety, are at the centre of ongoing strike action by Network Rail members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union.
Nonetheless, the latest board minutes from Network Rail from its 5 May meeting, which have been published this month, show that trials of geofencing technology have started in the Southern region.
Geofencing technology was the focus of a design contest launched by Network Rail in August 2020 to ask industry to present ideas for how the technology could be applied to enhance Safe System of Work and improve trackworker safety. The objective of the competition was to create a real-time monitoring system that could identify if trackside workers accidentally move into unsafe zones on a work site and to alert users when this occurs via a wearable device.
The competition led to three firms – Tended, Onwave and Track Tracker – being appointed to develop their concepts.
The minutes from the meeting show that Network Rail is also working on more physical methods of protecting workers with increasing deployment of track circuit operating devices planned over the next 12 months, use of protection for line blockages and aligning line blockage planning with capacity.
Network Rail trackworker safety taskforce leader Nick Millington and group safety and engineering director Martin Frobisher also told the Network Rail board about plans for the increased introduction of Semi-Automatic Track Warning Systems (SATWS) to reduce the human forms of lookout warning.
The board said it was encouraged by the progress made by the taskforce.