Nicotine withdrawal linked to train drama

Marnie Banger

Nicotine withdrawals are likely to blame for a Victorian train driver disregarding two stop signals and entering a level crossing before its boom gates had come down.

The behaviour forced the train driver and another to come to an emergency stop in January 2018.

The driver had been moving a V/Line train from the outer Geelong suburb of Waurn Ponds to Geelong Station, on a service without passengers, when he passed two signals at "danger" near Marshall Station.

The signals are the equivalent of a red light on the road.

The train entered a single-line section of track between Marshall and South Geelong and went through a level crossing before the boom gates had lowered.

At about the same time, another V/Line train was travelling the same stretch of track in the opposite direction with 166 passengers on board.

The trains were supposed to cross using a loop track at Marshall, but a controller in Melbourne made an emergency call urging them to stop when he realised one driver was passing danger signals.

The two trains were 940m apart at the time.

An Australian Transport and Safety Bureau investigation has found nicotine withdrawal is the likely explanation, as the driver had not applied a nicotine patch that day.

The effects of nicotine withdrawal become apparent within a few hours of using the substance and include concentration and memory issues.

"To minimise adverse impacts, attempts by safety-critical workers to stop smoking should be managed under medical supervision," ATSB Chief Investigator Transport Safety Chris McKeown said.

The driver also tested positive for inactive metabolite of cannabis, with levels suggesting he had used the drug in the previous seven days.

The ATSB could not determine whether that cannabis use had affected his performance as well.

V/Line has since installed a protection system at Marshall that could stop trains that pass signals at danger.

Rail operators should consider fitting similar systems at similar single, bi-directional tracks that may pose a heightened risk of issues, the ATSB recommended.