A new device that monitors human behaviour could be used on the UK mainline rail network with the express aim of preventing train drivers from falling asleep. The Australian-built system, which vibrates the driver's seat if it recognises signs that they’re about to fall asleep, has been earmarked for use by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), the safety regulator.
Seeing Machines’ Guardian system has already been used in Croydon, South London, following a crash that occurred there on its tram network in 2016. That incident, which claimed the life of seven people and injured around 50, occurred after the driver in control of the vehicle was adjudged to have fallen asleep. The device proved controversial when it was first introduced and almost led to strike action from drivers that complained of an intrusion to privacy and also blurred vision as a result of the infrared beam that shines direct into the eye.
The news that Guardian could also be rolled out on the mainline network was met with unhappiness from one of the main transport unions. As reported by the radio show LBC, the Aslef general secretary, Mick Whelan, said that the root cause of drivers had to be addressed and he argued that constantly monitoring drivers wasn’t the answer. “If we've got a problem with fatigue in the industry, deal with the shift processes, deal with the health regimes, deal with the five and a half hours in the seat,” said Whelan.
As described on the Seeing Machines website, the Guardian device has been built with the autonomous vehicles market in mind to enable the vehicles fitted with them to “respond appropriately and reliably to changing road conditions, including sudden events”. It’s hoped that with the introduction of the system that the UK rail network would also benefit from this safety feature.
Though keen to say that the use of the device was in the “early stages”, the director of safety at ORR, Ian Prosser, told LBC that it’s vital to use the best tools and to keep learning if incidents are to be avoided. “We are discussing it with the leaders in the industry. It's very important to talk to our trade union colleagues, and we have taken the General Secretary of ASLEF to see the system in Croydon,” said Prosser. “But we have developed a set of principles which we want to discuss with all partners in the industry - and do some pilots, and we're working on that as we speak.”
To learn more about safety and security in the rail industry and to see how it's being applied, visit SafeRail in Washington D.C. in May 2019. Among the topics being covered at the show will be PTC interoperability issues, federal safety regulations and preventing the rate of suicide on the network.
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