Wrong-side failure


Wrong-side failure

A wrong side failure describes a failure condition in a piece of railway signalling equipment that results in an unsafe state. A typical example would be a signal showing a 'proceed' aspect (e.g. green) when it should be showing a 'stop' or 'danger' aspect, resulting in a "false clear". (The converse is a right side failure, where even with any reduction the resulting state is safe overall).

Example of how a wrong side failure may occur

Consider a relay that has to energize to show a green light.

If a wire breaks, then the relay will de-energize and the signal will show a red light, which is fail-safe.

If a stray wire from another circuit touches the wire connected to the same relay, then that would be a wrong side failure, which is potentially dangerous. This stray wire can be guarded against by ensuring that the insulation on the relay wire is of good quality, and that all terminals are locked away.

In addition, the relay may be double-switched, that is to say that it only energizes if a positive circuit and a negative circuit are both complete. That would then require two stray wires to cause a wrong side failure, which is much less likely than a single stray wire.

Accidents

While accidents from the problem are rare, they do occur:

* 1876 - Abbots Ripton rail disaster - signals frozen by blizzard in 'clear' position (signal arm hidden in a slot in the post).

* 1938 - Charing Cross (Northern Line) tube crash - signal linesman rewires a faulty signal incorrectly, so that it shows green too soon; two Underground trains collide as a result, injuring twelve. Also Charing Cross (District Line) tube crash, signal linesman makes wiring error in cabin, two Underground trains collide, killing six.

* 1953 - Sydenham Rail Disaster - five killed

* 1979 - Invergowrie rail crash - signal was at "wrong" (i.e. indistinct indication) yet taken by driver to be a 'proceed' signal.

* 1988 - Clapham Junction rail crash - single stray wire causes false green signal and collision killing 35. The signals affected had been behaving strangely for some time, but not enough to pin down a real problem.

* 1980s - Southern Region of BR - driver of stationary train sees signal ahead go to green, while train ahead still on line. Track circuit wiring fault somewhat like Clapham Junction rail crash. Alerts signalman, no accident. Fact|date=February 2007

* 2005 - Deelfontein rail crash - solder splatter bridges a relay contact. Most testing is done with the relays unplugged which would not detect the splatter, while the solder splatter is likely to lead to a difficult to trace phantom problem.

False alarms

Railway authorities usually give the drivers and signalmen the benefit of the doubt, and investigate whether a wrong-side failure is the cause of the accident. This occurred with the Hinton train collision, but investigations soon showed that a wrong-side failure was not the cause.

See also

* List of rail accidents


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