On 23 February 2017, it was 10 years since the last passenger or staff fatality in a train accident on Great Britain’s national main line rail network. However, this does not reflect the true risks that face the industry’s workforce. Whilst the last decade has seen no fatalities as a result of train accidents, the ORR Rail Safety Statistics report a total of 23 workforce fatalities and 36,764 RIDDOR reported injuries during this period.

It is difficult to obtain a precise figure of the cost of a fatality but, in addition to the unquantifiable enormous cost of human grief and suffering, and when considering the cost of legal proceedings, medical and emergency services charges, associated damage to equipment, loss of production and insurance costs, then a seven-figure sum is not unreasonable.

So, clearly, it is vital in both human and financial contexts that everything possible must be done to reduce these risks, especially when severe hazards such as moving trains and high voltage equipment are present in the workplace.

Train movements within a maintenance depot are an obvious occupational hazard in the rail industry and, whilst over the past two decades depot infrastructure has undergone changes which chave clearly made a positive impact on safety, there is still room for improvement.

Better lighting arrangements, communication systems, access points, switches/crossings, signal sighting, fouling points and SPAD traps all contribute to increased safety. However, to achieve Network Rail’s goal of “everyone home safe, everyday”, there is more to be done.

Technology has an important role to play

It is often the case that accidents are caused by human actions and, unfortunately, given the circumstances and surroundings, a mistake in a depot is more likely to have a serious impact than it would in a different environment.

Modern technology is an important part of the answer for Britain’s depots. Innovative systems such as Zonegreen’s SMART Depot Personnel Protection System (DPPS™) offer solutions that provide added safety controls and communications to help ensure that any human errors do not end in disaster.

Zonegreen’s new generation DPPS was unveiled in 2014, following its first complete overhaul in 15 years.

Since then, it has been specified and installed at both Thameslink depots, Newton Heath in Manchester, all four new depots built for the Department for Transport’s Intercity Express Programme, and Crossrail’s Old Oak Common facility.

The system offers intuitive functionality, based on a fourbutton controller and a graphical interface that can be programmed in any language. It is operated using personal datakeys and combines powered de-railers, road end control panels, train detection equipment and warning beacons.

This advanced and thoroughly tested system provides essential protection to staff in the depot maintenance environment and Zonegreen has invested many hundreds of thousands of pounds in its development.

Following six years in development, a host of features have been added, including remote configuration and assistance, making overseas installations straightforward and cost effective.

The customer-centric focus of the new DPPS extends to its ergonomic design. A tactile membrane has improved durability, whilst stateof-the-art, high-quality electronic components reduce power consumption, delivering further cost savings.

By continuing to utilise distributed intelligent technologies, Zonegreen has also ensured that, if an error is detected on one road, normal operation can continue throughout the rest of the depot. This minimises disruption and represents a significant advantage over centralised control systems.

Standardised software is used to run DPPS, which means it can be configured to the unique layout of any facility whilst ensuring each depot still benefits from years of extensive refinement and testing.

Every installation complies with current safety standards, as well as electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) railway guidelines.

Zonegreen’s Depot Manager computer system displays and records all actions taken on the DPPS. Depot Manager can be used to visualise the status of the depot protection system, demonstrating where staff are working and the status of any interlocked equipment.

In addition, the logging facility not only provides full traceability in the event of an incident, it also generates a wealth of data that can be used to optimise depot operations.

Of course, nothing can completely eradicate the potential of an accident being caused by a human action but it is possible, by implementing these new technologies, to put complementary measures in place to ensure that such incidents are kept to a minimum.