AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Ammonium nitrate theft `too random to be planned’

<p>The disappearance of a large quantity of ammonium nitrate from a freight train near Newcastle this month is unlikely to have been the work of terrorists because they would have had only a few minutes warning of where the train would be, an industry insider has told <em>Lloyd’s List DCN</em> .</p> <p>New details have emerged about the circumstances in which about 400 kg of ammonium nitrate &#8211 a substance that has been used for bomb-making &#8211 disappeared from the Pacific National train on October 6.</p> <p>An expert in the transport of dangerous cargo, who asked to remain anonymous, said it was highly unlikely that those who broke into the container knew what it contained.</p> <p>The information directly contradicts other media reports alleging that the missing chemical was the target of a calculated theft.</p> <p>The expert said the decision to use the rail siding, in the suburb of Glendale near Newcastle, was made only a few minutes before the train stopped there.</p> <p>The train was diverted into the siding &#8220at the last minute&#8221 because it was running earlier than normal and needed to wait for a southbound passenger train to pass first.</p> <p>It is believed to be only the third time in about 14 years that the train, which operates between Brisbane and Kalgoorlie, had stopped in the Glendale junction.</p> <p>The expert said that the thieves had &#8220no more than two minutes&#8221 warning that the train would stop there and were neither prepared for nor willing to steal the substance.</p> <p>&#8220It would have to be coordinated and they would have to have been able to influence what the train controller did,&#8221 the expert said.</p> <p>&#8220The planning and number of people needed to be involved for such an exercise defies all credible understanding.</p> <p>&#8220They try to keep the major freight trains out of there because it is a known pilfering spot.&#8221</p> <p>The lock on the container was believed to have been broken by a crowbar or boltcutters, but the expert said that it was not unusual for opportunistic thieves to break into parked freight trains.</p> <p>The thieves do not normally know what is in the container, but normally the sight of a large lock is an indication that the cargo is valuable.</p> <p>Photos of the incident allegedly show that there is no evidence of shovel marks around the pile of the chemical found at the site where the thieves had broken open the container.</p> <p>The expert said the pile was &#8220too neat&#8221 to have been tampered with and it was possible that more of the substance had fallen between the ballasts and had leaked during transportation.</p> <p>Official details are sketchy, as New South Wales Police, the Counter-Terrorism Command and the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation conduct investigations.</p> <p>Orica, which owned the ammonium nitrate and was moving it from Newcastle to Kalgoorlie, has refuted the implication that its records were inaccurate.</p> <p>Orica said its ammonium nitrate shipments were weighed before and after transportation, and the customers would know if Orica had not delivered the correct volume.</p> <p>But the expert said it would take only a 1% to 2% calibration error by the weighing machinery at either end in the process for 400 kg to &#8220go missing&#8221.</p> <p>Orica spokesperson John Fetter said nothing had been ruled in or out, including the possibility that the product had been stolen or that it had gone missing as a result of the spill.</p> <p>&#8220The only confirmed facts are that the railway container shows evidence of tampering and that a quantity of product is, at this stage, unaccounted for,&#8221 Mr Fetter said.</p> <p>&#8220Orica takes its product safety responsibilities very seriously so where we even suspect missing product of this nature, we would immediately advise the relevant authorities.</p> <p>&#8220We would always err on the side of caution.&#8221</p> <p>Pacific National has declined requests to discuss the incident or the wider issue of how secure is the transport of dangerous goods. </p> <p>About 1m tonnes of ammonium nitrate is transported around Australia each year, most of it by rail.</p> <p>The chemical is used predominantly as a mining explosive, while about 40,000 tonnes is used to make fertiliser. </p> <br />