If you are a curious person, and are interested in technology and exciting, detective-like work, accident investigation may be for you! You will have to be able to react quickly, as you may have to go to a crash site at any time of the day or night.

Every investigation presents a new opportunity to learn something. A perfect investigator would have an enquiring and open mind. In addition to being curious, it is also important to be thorough, as some of the information coming in during the first 24 to 48 hours may be inaccurate. There is also follow-up work required to establish what happened before the accident and to identify safety risks in order to draft an official report. Responsibilities include interviewing witnesses, so good communication and interpersonal skills also apply. Great accident investigators need to work well both alone and in teams, and feel comfortable exploring unfamiliar issues.

Ideally, you will require experience (with railway companies or government regulators) and have training in technical areas or in psychology. There is an increasing tendency for higher standards of education for people wishing to become investigators. Investigators from the technical stream will always be needed, but they may not be eligible for some senior management jobs as their careers advance.

Several recent advances in technology have changed the field of transportation safety. For example, there are surveillance drones, site survey technologies and improved vehicle event recorders (“black boxes”). This means that there is an ever-increasing amount of data that has to be analyzed and managed. All of this data helps investigators put together accurate explanations of what happened before, during and after an accident. There have also been changes in the area of human error. In addition to the analysis of train crew and others’ behaviour, level of fatigue, and performance, there is an increasing focus on organizational failures.

In 2030, the responsibilities of accident investigation will probably remain quite similar, but new investigative techniques such as improved simulations of the accident and clearer and quicker communications to decision makers will change the way the job is done day-to-day.

There will also be increasing overseas work opportunities. Investigators will have to be part of a network in order to maximize work opportunities. There are rail accident investigation agencies around the world, such as in Canada, Western Europe, Australia and Taiwan. These agencies cooperate with each other and they all post their reports on their websites. The work will be diverse in the sense that investigators may work for railway companies, or government investigation agencies, or even for legal firms as safety experts.

About the author

Ian Naish

Ian Naish is a consultant specializing in railway accident investigation with over 28 years of experience: 24 years with the federal government, including 11 years as the Director of Rail Investigations. Ian holds a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering from London University, a master’s degree in Transportation Engineering from the University of New Brunswick and a MBA from the Ivey School of Business at Western University.