Newcastle coal terminal. Photo: Chris Mackey / Southern Cross Maritime

Flooding subsides, Hunter network re-opens

A staged return to service for trains on the Hunter Valley network began on Thursday afternoon, after bad weather and flooding led to the network’s closure earlier in the week.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation confirmed just after 1pm on Thursday that trains have started to run again on the network between Maitland and Newcastle.

A statement from the ARTC on Thursday morning said the track operator was planning a staged return to rail services after heavy flooding at Sandgate subsided overnight.

Water damage to some of the equipment between Sandgate and Warabrook was reported, with repairs scheduled. No major track infrastructure damage has been reported by the ARTC at this time.

“We will return services gradually and in line with the conditions throughout the afternoon,” ARTC said on Thursday morning.

“There remains sporadic flooding across the network and at the port [Newcastle], so we will continue to work closely with the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator to ensure a planned and safe return to coal services.”

NSW TrainLink passenger services have been replaced by coaches in many cases, with a return to service for passenger trains included in the ARTC’s staged return plans.

The network was closed after flooding started to impact services around 6pm on Tuesday, January 5.

Operators and the ARTC will no doubt be pleased the flooding appears to not be as bad as the period of bad weather midway through last year, which saw much of the network shut down for more than a week, and several major ballast washaways and other instances of track damage.

Julia Creek derailment. Photo: Queensland Rail

Footage shows extent of Julia Creek damage

WATCH: Footage from the Julia Creek derailment site has been released by Queensland Rail, as recovery works continue after the December 27 incident which led to the spillage of up to 31,500 litres of sulfuric acid.

Queensland Rail chief executive Helen Gluer inspected the site on north-west Queensland on Tuesday, saying she appreciated the difficult environment crews were working in.

“As site commander, Queensland Rail is coordinating the efforts of all parties to seek to ensure the recovery work of Aurizon and Incitec Pivot and rebuilding work of Queensland Rail happens safely and without further environmental impact,” Gluer said.

Queensland Rail has appointed environmental and geotechnical engineering firm Golder Associates to assist the operation.

“Golders will work closely with all parties, including the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection to assess and help inform treatment of any product leakage and to help ensure the situation is managed closely.”

QR released the following footage from ground level of the derailment site:

The Aurizon locomotive and all 26 of its wagons derailed at approximately 10.20am on December 27, 2015. The wagons, owned by chemicals business Incitec Pivot, contained a total of roughly 810,000 litres of sulfuric acid.

One wagon leaked its contents, with acid reaching the nearby Horse Creek, contaminating it, according to the Department of Environment and Heritage.

Lime is being used to treat the creek, and the surrounding area.

QR revealed on Wednesday that Incitec Pivot believes one additional wagon may also have “a very minor leak,” which QR said is being treated on site.

“Queensland Rail crews are currently on site building access roads from the highway so heavy machinery can commence building the rail deviation,” Gluer continued.

“We understand that Queenslanders rely on rail for passenger and freight services and our crews are working as quickly as possible to restore services through the deviation.”

“Construction of the deviation has unfortunately been delayed due to wet ground conditions around the site, however with water beginning to clear we expect to complete the deviation late next week.”

Gluer said Queensland Rail would keep the local community informed of recovery works and environmental management. Gluer met with local mayors whilst visiting the region.

“I have committed to keeping the region updated on recovery work and the return of rail services,” she said.

“We are also working closely with freight operators to ensure that we can process freight movements as quickly as possible, following the completion of the deviation track.

“We are confident that we will have sufficient capacity with the rail deviation to process outstanding freight movements as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Aurizon locomotive derailed in north west Queensland. Photo: Queensland Rail

ATSB investigating several December derailments

The last month of 2015 was a busy one for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, with at least six derailment investigations launched into incidents around the nation.

A December 3 derailment near Walla, in WA, kicked off the busy month. According to the Bureau, loaded ore train M03544 derailed roughly 68km south of Port Hedland on BHP Billiton’s iron ore mainline just before 6am local time.

21 ore cars derailed, but there were no injuries to the train crew. However, around 200 metres of the West track was substantially damaged, according to the initial report.

Next, on December 4, SCT intermodal freight  train 5PM9 derailed near Rawlinna, also in WA, just before 3pm local time. 39 of the train’s 59 vehicles derailed, according to the Bureau, including the fuel wagon and the crew van located behind the lead locomotives.

“The train broke into two sections with the trailing vehicles behind the locomotives rolling onto their sides,” the ATSB explained. “Wagons within the rear section of derailed vehicles were severely damaged, with a fire starting in one refrigerated food van.”

About 600 metres of track was damaged. While the train’s drivers at the time of the incident were not injured, two relief drivers in the crew van were “badly shaken” when it rolled onto its side.

Next, at around 5.20pm local time on December 15, Rio Tinto train ND575 derailed on the East Main Tom Price line, with the front 58 of the train’s 236 empty wagons derailing, according to the Bureau. No injuries were reported.

Two days after that, on December 17, the lead car of an empty Sydney Trains passenger service derailed at Hornsby, just after 4pm, after reportedly passing a STOP signal without authority. No injuries were reported, and damage to the train was reported to be minor.

On December 27, an Aurizon-operated train derailed near Julia Creek in north-west Queensland, leaking up to 31,500 litres of sulfuric acid, according to Queensland Rail, which said the ATSB would conduct an investigation.

To round off the messy month on Australia’s railways, Pacific National grain train 9156 derailed near the Williams Street level crossing in Ouyen, Victoria, around 5.15pm on December 29.

According to the Bureau, twelve wagons derailed resulting in “significant damage to the wagons, the Williams Street level crossing and track either side of the crossing”. No injuries were reported.

Christmas reading: Rail Express AusRAIL edition

In case you missed it, Rail Express published a digital edition of its AusRAIL magazine in November. You can read the magazine, which includes features, interviews, analysis and comment covering the Australian and New Zealand rail industry, in digital format on our website.

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Sydney train derailed in 2014. Photo: ATSB

Communications flawed before iron bar pierced train floor

An unauthorised repair job and a number of communications issues contributed to a Sydney derailment last year, which drove a loose piece of iron through the floor of a loaded passenger train, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau has found.

Sydney Trains received some unwanted attention on January 15, 2014, after an iron bar burst through the floor of a Tangara passenger train between Edgecliff and Kings Cross during afternoon peak.

Photos of the twisted rod of metal, surrounded by alarmed passengers, went viral on social media.

The dramatic incident was the result of a minor derailment, caused by a broken axle on the leading bogie of the train’s third carriage, the ATSB said in its investigation report, released earlier this month.

The ATSB found an unauthorised, non-standard repair had been carried out on the axle in December 1998 or January 1999.

The axle in question entered into service in July 1998. Later that year it was found to have sustained surface damage that needed either an electro chemical metal deposition (ECMD), or thermal metal spraying, to repair.

While an ECMD repair was approved for the axle, the contractor, A1 Metallising, determined an ECMD technique would not be sufficient, and thermal metal spraying would have to be used.

This change was not clearly recorded in the files studied by the ATSB, however.

“No evidence was available as to how, or if, this change was approved by [UGL Unipart predecessor] Maintrain,” the Bureau said. “The final invoice, issued on 31 January 1999 … [was] non-specific and did not identify the actual process applied.”

According to the ATSB, the apparently unapproved thermal spraying technique “rendered the axle in a state whereby it was more susceptible to the initiation of surface fatigue cracking under operational loads”.

This was identified in the bureau’s report as a contributing factor to the January 2014 incident.


Rail staff failed to properly report burning smell

The bureau also found questionable communications were at fault in the lead-up to the incident.

From roughly half an hour before the derailment, on the train’s prior leg, a burning smell was apparent emanating from the train at Central station and at all subsequent stations to Bondi Junction, the ATSB reported.

“A number of station and train crewing staff were aware of this but the condition was not reported to the appropriate network control officer as required under Sydney Trains’ Network Rules and Procedures,” the bureau said.

“A number of organisational factors contributed to the incident with examples of poor communication and lack of adherence to procedures and reporting lines leading to the train continuing in service and subsequently derailing.”


Drivers ‘desensitised’ to wheel slip indicator

A further issue addressed in the report: The train’s data logger reported the wheel slip indicator light had flickered on and off throughout the lead-up to the derailment, due to the failing axle.

None of the drivers involved reported being aware of this prior to the derailment, when interviewed afterwards by the ATSB.

“Drivers are desensitised to the wheel slip protection indicator light activations through its regular activation in response to momentary losses of adhesion,” the bureau argued in its report.

“This, coupled with the inadequate warning provided by the Train Management System (TMS), may result in delayed reaction in response to activations that need driver intervention.”


Angle iron came from track infrastructure

The bureau’s report also determined where the metal rod, which penetrated the passenger space, had come from.

Immediately after the derailment, “the right hand wheel (in the direction of travel) of the leading axle of the first bogie had slipped into the space between the two rails,” the ATSB explained.

“The wheel continued in a derailed state for 17 metres where it collided with a concrete slab used to allow road/rail maintenance vehicles to be put on or taken off track.”

Lengths of ‘angle iron’ were fitted between the slab and the rail to protect the edge of the slab. One of these lengths was dislodged, and “picked up” by the train.

“One end of the piece of angle iron, that had been removed from the concrete pad and  caught under the train, fouled on a piece of infrastructure causing the other end to wrap around the second axle on the bogie,” the ATSB found.

“The angle iron continued upwards, missing passengers in the area, before marking the carriage’s ceiling.” According to the bureau, one woman was standing within roughly half a metre of where the piece of metal penetrated the train floor.

Angle iron penetrating passenger space following January 2014 derailment. Photo: ATSB
Photo: ATSB

What has been done

The ATSB says Sydney Trains and its maintenance contractors have undertaken an archival document search and determined that seven axles, including the failed axle, had been repaired in the same way as described in report.

All were immediately removed from service.

“Sydney Trains, after conducting its own investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident, produced a number of safety recommendations which the organisation is considering through its own Safety Action Management procedures,” the bureau added.

“Rail operators should ensure that maintenance procedures are followed and that non-standard repairs comply strictly with an approved variation and do not introduce new risks to operations.

“Also, rail operators should review their internal training and communication pathways both within and between business units/operational areas to ensure that critical communication can occur in line with best current Rail Resource Management principle.”


Greens call on state to do more

Greens transport spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi responded to the ATSB report, calling on the NSW Government to do more to prioritise passenger safety.

“The derailment report clearly shows that the Edgecliff incident occurred because of serious dysfunction and a lack of coordination between the people responsible for keeping train passengers safe,” Faruqi said.

“Multiple opportunities to stop the clearly defective train were not taken up and the vehicle was allowed to continue on until its damaging and potentially lethal derailment.

“The system can and should be run efficiently, but with passenger safety being the top priority, including through giving staff the appropriate training and ensuring that they feel comfortable to stop a train if a potential situation is emerging.

“Over the last few years, we’ve sadly seen the NSW government do all they can to project a new, shiny image for our rebranded rail network, but this may have been at the expense of passenger safety,” she continued.

Sydney Trains’ 2014/15 report showed the move of network maintenance staff from 127 bases into 12 purpose-built depots, “achieved an efficiency of 450 positions,” (i.e. reduced the workforce by 450).

“Sydney Trains might claim that they are making our train network more efficient, but in reality, they are expanding corporate and senior staff while getting rid of the people who make our system run safely and effectively,” Faruqi said.

“A good train system prioritises quality of service over a top-heavy, corporatised approach. Sadly, the government has opted for the latter.”

Warren Truss

Truss unveils third Trainline report

Acting prime minister Warren Truss has released the third Trainline report on Australian rail.

Trainline 3 outlines the key role freight, urban and non-urban passenger rail plays in the national economy.

Truss, the guest of honour at Thursday night’s AusRAIL Gala Dinner in Melbourne, said the report would present rail enthusiasts and industry experts with key trends, statistics, and government commitments to rail.

Trainline 3 is a joint annual publication from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) and the Australasian Railway Association (ARA).

“The publication provides an overview of freight, urban and non-urban passenger rail.

“The report reveals that the end of the mining construction boom has transformed into a production boom and rail is moving more bulk tonnage than ever. “

According to the paper, Australian railways moved almost 1.3 billion tonnes of bulk freight in 2013/14, with WA iron ore transport representing roughly 70% of that figure.

“On the passenger side, Australia’s rail network transported approximately 627 million passengers in 2013-14, with Sydney carrying 272.5 million via heavy rail and Melbourne moving 177 million passengers via light rail in the same year,” Truss said.

Truss, who is acting prime minister while Malcolm Turnbull is out of the country, said the Australian Government is committed to investing in rail projects that deliver economic benefits to Australia including freight rail, inland rail, the intermodal sector and passenger rail.

“Rail is no longer only being viewed as just a long distance and bulk carrier,” he said.

“Indeed, freight rail will need to play an increasingly important role in the movement of goods across the short distances between ports and inland freight terminals.”

Truss said the development of the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal would enable future expansion of Port Botany’s container handling capacity, and investment and employment opportunities in Western Sydney.

“Effective rail connections to our national ports are vital for economic growth, and the Government is committed to enhancing these connections,” he said.

“The Australian Governent is also committed to deliver Inland Rail which carries clear benefits for rail freight.

“It promises to deliver economic benefits of around $22.5 billion and create up to 16,000 direct jobs during it’s 10-year construction period.”

Truss also said the Australian Government recognises that investment in public transport is critical to easing congestion and boosting productivity in major cities and regions.

“Our $4.2 billion Asset Recycling Initiative, a key element of the Infrastructure Growth Package includes $60 million to support light rail development in the ACT,” he said.

“The Australian Government’s Infrastructure Investment Programme includes $95 million towards the second stage of the Gold Coast Light Rail which will link the Gold Coast and Brisbane and will be delivered in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“Up to $1.6 billion will also be contributed towards urban rail projects in NSW including the Sydney Rapid Transit and a second harbor crossing.

“The project will create around 7,700 ongoing operating jobs and more than 1,300 construction jobs in south-west Sydney.”

Trainline 3 is available to access online at

Rod Sims, ACCC chairman. Photo: ACCC

ACCC rejects Brookfield’s proposed undertakings

Brookfield’s plans for an Asciano takeover have suffered another blow, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission rejecting undertakings offered by the Canadian entity in response to competition concerns.

The ACCC this week confirmed widespread media reports that Brookfield had offered a number of proposed moves it could make to assuage concerns raised by the ACCC over potential vertical integration, should Brookfield successfully acquire Asciano and its subsidiaries, Pacific National and Patrick.

Although the ACCC says it has not yet formed a final view on whether to oppose the proposed acquisition, the regulator said it would be inappropriate to conduct industry consultation on so-called “behavioural-undertakings”.

“While the ACCC does not generally make public its decision whether or not to consult on proposed undertakings, we considered it important… in light of the recent media reports that Brookfield has proposed long-term behavioural undertakings to the ACCC,” chairman Rod Sims said.

“The undertakings seek to address potential issues arising from the vertical integration of above and below rail assets in West Australia and the integration of port and rail assets in Queensland.

“After detailed consideration, the ACCC has concluded that the undertakings are not acceptable, and accordingly we will not be conducting third party consultation on the undertakings.”

In deciding the undertakings were unacceptable, the ACCC considered several factors including:

  • Whether long term section 87B undertakings could address the scale and complexity of vertical integration of Brookfield’s monopoly infrastructure assets with Asciano’s rail operations;
  • The difficulty and risks of behavioural undertaking obligations;
  • Whether it was appropriate for the proposed undertakings to rely (partially), on Western Australian and Queensland based access regimes which are subject to change and have been criticised for their lack of effectiveness in dealing with vertical integration issues.

“The ACCC’s review of the proposed acquisition continues and we are assessing the large volume of submissions from industry participants and the parties,” Sims said.

The ACCC is expected to announce a final decision on Thursday December 17, having begun a review of the proposed acquisition in October.

If approved, Brookfield would be allowed to acquire Asciano, including its Pacific National above rail business.

Brookfield already owns network owner Brookfield Rail in Western Australia, and Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal near Mackay in central Queensland – two assets the ACCC has taken issue with potentially combining with Pacific National.

This story originally appeared in Rail Express affiliate Lloyd’s List Australia.

Pacific National containers. Photo: Cameron Boggs

Asciano contest could spur ARTC deal

The battle between Qube and Brookfield over all or part of major port and rail operator Asciano could trigger a renewed focus from the government on the sale of track owner the Australian Rail Track Corporation, a Fairfax report suggests.

The AFR’s Street Talk column last Friday reported the Department of Finance could soon advertise for bankers to oversee a scoping study – early in 2016 – into the potential sale of the ARTC, for a price estimated in the range of $5bn.

With both sides in the battle for Asciano sorting out significant financial backing, the losing party would be in prime position, once the dust settles, as a potential candidate to buy the ARTC instead.

The Federal Government set aside its initial plans to privatise the ARTC in September, after finance minister Mathias Cormann said the scoping study could get in the way of the development of the ARTC-operated Inland Rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane.

“The scoping study into options for the future management, operations and ownership of the ARTC will need to be broadened to take this important strategic initiative into account,” Cormann said in September, adding: “The ARTC scoping study remains on track for consideration by the government in the 2016/17 Budget process.”

The ARTC was established as a government entity in July 1998 to manage Australia’s interstate rail network. Today it owns – through a 60-year-lease – most of New South Wales’ non-metropolitan rail infrastructure, including the Hunter Valley rail network, which supplies coal to Newcastle’s export terminals. It also owns and manages railways in Queensland and Victoria.

Your digital edition of Rail Express AusRAIL PLUS 2015 has arrived!

The electronic version of Rail Express AusRAIL 2015 magazine is now available to read online, free of charge.

Click here to read our AusRAIL 2015 edition.

Instructions: simply use your mouse to drag the pages just like you were reading a magazine. Alternatively, you can use the left and right arrows on your keyboard. To zoom in on a page, use the magnifying glass icon on the bottom left menu.

Our AusRAIL PLUS 2015 edition is 92 pages and includes:

  • ARA: Introducing new CEO Danny Broad.
  • Workforce: Women have more to offer in rail.
  • Inland Rail & Intermodal: Looking in to the Inland Rail Implementation Group report
  • Research & Technology: Experts meet to talk wheel detection.

We hope that you enjoy the magazine. If you have any feedback, please feel free to email our editor:

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Resleepered track on WA's Leonora Branch Line. Photo: Brookfield Rail

Major Tassie Freight Revitalisation contract awarded

Infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss has announced the winner of a $119.6 million contract for Tasmanian track upgrades.

VEC Civil Engineering was awarded the contract, the single largest tender of the Tasmanian Freight Rail Revitalisation Project, on November 20.

VEC is based in Ulverstone, Tasmania, and has offices in Hobart, Melbourne and Woolloongabba, Queensland. It specialises in structural works in the roads, rail and maritime sectors.

The contract includes re-sleepering, re-railing and associated track upgrade works on Tasmania’s Melba and Western lines. Around 48,000 sleepers and 30km of rail will be upgraded, while a timetable for freight will be maintained throughout.

“Works as part of the Freight Rail Revitalisation are taking place on the rail network across the state, helping to ensure safe, reliable and environmentally responsible freight solutions are available in Tasmania for years to come,” Truss said.

Tasmanian minister for infrastructure Rene Hidding said the contract would target near-life expired track infrastructure for upgrade. “The track infrastructure targeted in this project is essential to operate and maintain the line in an efficient manner,” he said.

“This project will reduce the operational costs of freight movements by providing additional rail capacity, improved reliability and reduced transit times. They will also help to reduce derailments.”

Federal members for Bass, Lyons and Braddon, Andrew Nikolic, Eric Hutchinson and Brett Whiteley, respectively, joined Hidding on site in Longford to award the tender.

“VEC Civil Engineering Pty Ltd will be responsible for laying around 48,000 sleepers and 30 kilometres of rail, while maintaining timetabled rail traffic during construction,” Nikolic said.

Hutchinson said the Tasmanian Freight Rail Revitalisation project should improve the capacity and productivity of industries in Tasmania that rely on rail.

“In particular, ‘high tonnage’ industries will be better able to compete in international and interstate trade and commerce,” he detailed.

“This includes the cement and paper industries, where large volumes must be transported to port, almost continually.”

Whitely, meanwhile, focused on the economic dividends the rail upgrade would provide to the state.

“It’s not just about repairing old line,” he said, “it’s about ensuring the state’s infrastructure is capable of capitalising on future economic growth as a result of the three North-Asia free trade agreements signed by the Federal Government.”

Works are planned to start next month and should be done by mid-2017.

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