Signal passed at danger

Two-aspect signal at danger

A signal passed at danger in railway terminology of many countries, including Australia and the UK (where it is also known as either a SPAD or SPAR), occurs when a train passes a stop signal without authority to do so.[1] The United States's NTSB, which investigates railway accidents in that country, typically terms this as running a red signal.[2]

Possible causes include text messaging and other operator distractions.[2]


Automatic train protection

Automatic train protection (ATP) is a much more advanced form of Train Stop, which can regulate the speed of trains in many more situations other than at a stop signal. ATP supervises speed restrictions and distance to danger points. An ATP does take into account individual train characteristics such as brake performance. Thus, the ATP determines when brakes should be applied in order to stop the train before getting beyond the danger point. In the UK, only a small percentage of trains (First Great Western and Chiltern Railways) are fitted with this equipment.

Driver's reminder appliance

The DRA is an inhibiting switch located on the driver's desk of United Kingdom passenger trains designed specifically to prevent 'Starting Away SPADs'. The driver is required to operate the DRA whenever the train is brought to a stand,[3] either after passing a signal displaying caution or at a signal displaying danger.

Once applied, the DRA displays a red light and prevents traction power from being taken.

Collision avoidance

Whilst the ideal safety system would prevent a SPAD from occurring, most equipment in current use does not stop the train before it has passed the Danger signal. However, provided that the train stops within the designated overlap beyond that signal, a collision should not occur.

Train detection

There are two main forms of train detection. Track circuits detect the presence of trains and can, for example, hold signals at stop in the first place to prevent accidents. There are also axle counters which, like track circuits, additionally count how many axles of a train have come in and out of the track in order to fully ensure no train is present. All other safety system such as train stops rely on detection systems such as track circuits and axle counters. Additionally a treadle is sometimes used.

Train stops

Main article: Train stop

On the London Underground (for example), train stops are fitted on the track to stop a train, should a SPAD occur. When a train is stopped under such circumstances, delays occur because the train's trip cock has to be reset, and a replacement needs to be found as the driver is not permitted to continue with the train.

Train stops (and trip cock equipped trains) are also operated by the main line railways in places where extensive tunnel operation is carried out, such as the Northern City Line where the Automatic warning system and Train Protection & Warning System are not fitted.

Train Protection & Warning System

On the UK mainline, TPWS consists of an on-board receiver/timer connected to the emergency braking system of a train, and radio frequency transmitter loops located on the track. The 'Overspeed Sensor System' pair of loops is located on the approach to the signal, and will trigger the train brakes if it approaches faster than the 'set speed' when the signal is at danger. The 'Train Stop System' pair of loops is located at the signal, and will trigger the brakes if the train passes over them at any speed when the signal is at danger.

TPWS has proved to be an effective system in the UK, and has prevented several significant collisions. However, its deployment is not universal; only those signals where the risk of collision is considered to be significant are fitted with it.

Flank protection

At certain junctions, especially where if the signal protecting the junction was passed at danger a side collision is likely to result, then flank protection[4] may be used. Derailers and/or facing points beyond the signal protecting the junction will be set in such a position to allow a safe overlap if the signal was passed without authority. This effectively removes the chance of a side-impact collision as the train would be diverted in a parallel path to the approaching train.

SPAD indicators

SPAD indicator

Prior to the introduction of TPWS in the UK, "SPAD indicators" were introduced at 'high risk' locations (for example: the entry to a single track section of line). These SPAD indicators are placed beyond the protecting stop signal and are normally unlit. Should a driver pass the signal at 'danger', some form of train detection, detects this and causes the SPAD indicator to flash red lights to warn the driver of the error. Whenever a SPAD indicator activates, all drivers who observe it are required to stop immediately, even if they can see that the signal pertaining to their own train is showing a proceed aspect. Since the introduction of TPWS, provision of new SPAD indicators has become less common.

Signal passed at danger in the United Kingdom; Terminology and procedures

Acronyms - SPADs and SPARs

Prior to December 2012,[5] the term "SPAD" applied to all incidents where a signal was passed at danger without authority, and a letter was used to specify the principal cause.

Now the term SPAD is only used for what were previously category A SPADs and a new term, SPAR – Signal Passed at Red, is used to describe the former category B, C and D incidents.

There are a number of ways that a train can pass a signal at danger without authority, and in the UK these fall into four basic categories:

Some SPADs can be defined as;

Passing signals at dangerwith authority

Signals form part of a complex system, and it is inevitable that faults may occur. They are designed to fail safe, so that when problems occur, the affected signal indicates danger (an example where this did not happen was the Clapham Junction rail crash due primarily to faulty wiring). To keep the network running, safety rules enable trains to pass signals that cannot be cleared to a proceed aspect. Provided that authority for the movement is obtained, a SPAD does not occur. There are two methods of obtaining that authority;[7]

1) Driver obtains signaller's authority to pass a signal at danger.

Once the train has been brought to a stand at a signal which is at danger, the driver should attempt to contact the signaller. If the signal cannot be cleared then the driver must obtain the signaller's authority to pass it at danger. Methods for contacting the signaller may include Cab Radio (NRN, Cab Secure or GSM-R), Signal Post Telephone or Mobile phone.

The driver and signaller must come to a clear understanding, and ensure they agree about how it is to be done. In the UK the signaller tells the driver of a specific train to pass a specific signal at danger, proceed with caution and travel at a speed that enables him to stop short of any obstruction, and then obey all other signals. If the signal is fitted with TPWS, the driver resets the Driver reminder appliance, pushes the TPWS Trainstop Override button in the cab, and proceeds cautiously through the section. If the train reaches the next signal without finding an obstruction, he must obey its aspect, at which point he can revert to normal working.

2) Driver passes a signal at danger under his own authority.

If contact with the signaller cannot be made then the driver must not move his train, unless it is standing at one of the following signals:

After passing a signal at danger under his own authority, the driver must stop at the next signal (even if it is showing a proceed aspect) and inform the signaller of what he has done.

Accidents involving a signal passed at danger without authority

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Accidents following a signal passed at danger with authority

Whenever a signal is passed at danger the driver is required to "proceed with caution, stop short of any obstructions, and drive at speed that will enable you to stop within the distance which you can see to be clear". Failure to do this has caused the following collisions;

See also


External links

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