CZ/SK verze

Traffic Light Oversights Raise Concerns Over Train Driver Training

Traffic Light Oversights Raise Concerns Over Train Driver Training
photo: ŽSR/Traffic Light Oversights Raise Concerns Over Train Driver Training
12 / 04 / 2023

Situations where a driver fails to notice a traffic light are said to be common. Many see the problem as a lack of selectivity in the selection process for drivers, as those with no aptitude for the profession are put on the tracks while the training itself is also inadequate.

If a driver fails to notice a traffic light, it is one of the worst possible scenarios that might happen on the line. Overlooking can lead to trains colliding, as happened at the beginning of March near Žilina when two passenger trains approached each other due to the driver's inattention. However, the collision was avoided thanks to the dispatcher, who switched off the current on the overhead line for both trains.

In this situation, it was just a 'knack', as the trains stopped only 140 metres apart, given that the braking distance of a passenger train is usually 300 to 400 metres. Immediately after the incident, the Railway Company of Slovakia (ZSSK) started a general check of its drivers' knowledge of the relevant regulations. Less than a month later, however, another incident occurred in Vrútky. A driver moved prematurely from their position even though the signalling indicated 'Shift prohibited'. He stepped into the path of an oncoming express train, with only tens of metres separating the two trains from a collision.

Critics see the root cause of these incidents as a lack of training for novice drivers. The first incident was caused by a driver who had only been driving for two years; the second, who made the mistake in Vrútky, had only been driving for less than ten months. In addition to inadequate training, critics also see a problem in the selection of drivers who do not have the aptitude for the profession.

In 2019, the Ministry of Transport pushed through an amendment that expanded the pool of people who could become train drivers. The move was aimed at increasing demand for the profession. Before the approval, only those who had completed high school in electrical, transport, technical or mechanical engineering could become locomotive engineers. Today, a prospective train driver can have completed any secondary school. Previous education in itself is not a problem. The biggest problem is the length of the training itself. Back in the 1990s, a driver could only drive a train by themselves after about three years of passing the exams. In the meantime, they drove as senior driver's helpers or worked as shunters. This process has remained unchanged, but the time from which a new driver can drive a train independently has been roughly halved.

In the event of an emergency, not every driver is taken out of service. ZSSK will allow him to be re-examined and undergo medical and psychological tests. After a time, they can start driving trains again or at least do shunting, but under the increased supervision of instructors.