Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published the latest statistics for signals passed at danger (SPADs).
A SPAD occurs when a train passes a stop signal when it is set at ‘red’ or otherwise indicates that the train must stop. Passing such a signal can cause collisions between trains as well as other accidents, as the signal may be protecting people working on the railway, a fault on the line or a derailment.
Since the train protection and warning system (TPWS) was introduced, serious SPAD incidents and the risk arising from them have been greatly reduced. While there are still many SPADs each year, most have little or no potential to cause harm because they are the result of minor misjudgements of distance or braking capability, or they occur at low speed.
In most cases, the trains stop within the safety overlap provided at the signal. This is the clear section of track beyond the signal, usually 183 metres long, which protect against minor overruns. Generally, trains have to run past the safety overlap before there is any potential of collision or derailment.
In the year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, there were a total of 198 SPADs on the mainline network in Great Britain, down from 359 in 2019-20. Eight were classified as potentially severe, 32 as potentially significant and 158 as having no significant risk.
While this shows improvement year-on-year, the number of services was also reduced due to COVID-19 so part or all of the reduction in SPADs could be due to there being fewer trains running. ORR figures show that there were 1.7 million fewer trains planned in 2020-21, compared with the previous year. In total, 6.1 million trains were planned, a drop of 22% on the 7.8 million trains in 2019-20.