Following signal indications

This video discusses following signal indications, which is one of the nine safety issues identified by the Transportation Safety Board as posing the greatest risk to Canadians. To find out more about these safety issues, see the Watchlist 2012.

Transcript of the video

Following signal indications

Advancing safety is at the core of what we do at the Transportation Safety Board. Our Watchlist—updated in June 2012—is the result of hundreds of investigations and countless hours of accident analysis. It identifies the issues that pose the greatest risk to Canadians and our transportation system. Following railway signals is one of these key issues.

Operating a train is an extremely demanding task. It requires excellent concentration, communication and observation skills. Inside the cab, locomotive engineers are responsible for operating controls, monitoring the instrument panel, exchanging operational data with rail traffic controllers and other crew members and respecting rules and regulations. One of the most safety critical elements of their job is to observe signals to ensure they are accurately identified and consistently followed.

The Canadian railway industry has relied on centralized traffic control—or CTC—since it was first developed in the early1900's. This system, used in the busy rail corridors, relies on visual signals and track circuits to provide train crews with information such as the occupation of the track ahead, if they have permission to proceed and what speed the train may travel. To ensure safety, crews must be familiar with the signals and control their trains accordingly.

But we're all human, and sometimes signals may be misidentified, misinterpreted or not immediately recognized. Since 2002, this has happened roughly 11 times per year. And if a train collision or derailment occurs as a result, railway employees, the public and the environment may be at significant risk.

Unfortunately, if signals aren't followed, the CTC system can't automatically control, slow down or stop the train. The system only communicates instructions, it doesn't enforce them. And even though industry has adopted a number of administrative mechanisms to help prevent accidents, they don't go far enough.

To ensure signals are consistently followed, the TSB is calling for additional safety defenses, which may mean improved technology. In fact, some railways in countries such as England, France, Germany and the United States have already adopted these back-up defenses. But until Canada follows suit, accidents involving the misidentification or misapplication of signals will continue to happen and this issue will remain an important target on our Watchlist.