Robert Sumwalt NTSB press conference

Derailed train approached bend at over 160km/h

A train which derailed at a rail bend in north Philadelphia earlier this week, killing at least seven onboard, was travelling at more than twice the authorised speed at that bend, according to the National Transport Safety Bureau.

“Just moments before the derailment, the train was placed into engineer-induced braking,” NTSB board member Robert J. Sumwalt told the media less than a day after the incident.

“Maximum authorised speed through this curve was 50 miles per hour.

“When the engineer-induced brake application was applied, the train was travelling at approximately 106 miles per hour.

“Three seconds later, when the data to the recorders terminated, the train speed was 102 miles per hour.”

Sumwalt said the figures were preliminary, but indicated there was no reason they would be significantly incorrect. “We’re pretty close on that,” he said.

Sumwalt briefed the media on Wednesday afternoon, local time, roughly 20 hours after Amtrak train 188 derailed on a left turn in Port Richmond, north Philadelphia.

The entire train, consisting of one locomotive and seven passenger cars, derailed. 238 passengers and 5 crew were onboard.

The train had forward-facing video camera and an event recorder. Both have been sent to the NTSB’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

“The locomotive and all but two of the train passenger cars are currently being moved to a secure location where detailed examination and documentation can occur,” Sumwalt said.

“Throughout the next few days investigators will work on scene.”

The NTSB will interview the train’s crew and other personnel, as well as passengers of the train. Train control signals will be tested, as well as the systems on the train itself.

“Our mission is to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can prevent it from happening again,” Sumwalt said.

As of Wednesday evening local time, the NTSB had not spoken with the train’s driver, but Sumwalt said it planned on doing so.

“This person has gone through a very traumatic event, and we want to give him the opportunity to convalesce for a day or two … but that is certainly a high priority for us.”


Related: At least 5 dead, 65 injured in US derailment

Melbourne Metro Train. Photo: Creative Commons / Zed Fitzhume

Victoria to clamp down on station skipping

Public Transport Victoria will begin publishing the number of stations skipped by trains on the metro network, in a transparency move by the Andrews Government.

Public transport minister Jacinta Allan says the number of stations skipped by metropolitan trains will be published each month on the Public Transport Victoria website, “as part of a push by the Andrews Labor Government to further reduce the practice”.

Public Transport Victoria’s monthly Track Record report usually features punctuality and overall service data for the state’s metro and country trains, and trams. The report will now include data on station skipping.

Allan said the data will show the number and proportion of overall services that run express when they were not timetabled to, as well as historical data, so trends in station skipping can be monitored.

The minister said that while there’s been a 0.5% per cent drop in station skipping since the election, to just 0.2% of services, the practice was still a serious concern for many passengers.

This month’s Track Record report showed 97 Metro services ran as unplanned express, out of the more than 60,000 scheduled services.

Allan said greater transparency would give passengers the accountability they deserve and help to improve train punctuality.

“Passengers need a train system that actually works and we’re delivering it,” Allan campaigned.

“While the previous Liberal Government defended station skipping, Labor is taking a strong stand against it.

“By publishing the data, passengers will get the transparency they deserve. If Victorian’s don’t like what they see, then more will need to be done to put an end to the practice.”

Allan said the government has already had discussions with PTV and Metro about how skipping can be reduced within the current contractual arrangements, and will ensure the issue is addressed in future contract negotiations.

Esperance Port. Photo: Esperance Ports

Kalgoorlie-Esperance gets two-way radio

Brookfield has installed a $16.5 million two-way radio network to a 385km section of its track, in one of its largest communications projects since privatisation in 2000.

The company, which manages and operates 5,500km of WA’s open access, multi-user freight rail network, said the communications system will improve safety, efficiency and operability along the line from Kalgoorlie to Esperance, in the state’s south.

Brookfield’s general manager for infrastructure Paul Lowney said the project, which was completed at the end of April, has provided a high speed, high availability transmission system which would future proof the rail line.

“This new system introduces a reliable 2-way radio communications network which will mean train control, train drivers, maintenance crews and contractors will be able to communicate more efficiently and effectively in that region,” Lowney said.

“The project highlights Brookfield Rail’s long-term commitment to improving the safety, efficiency and reliability of the state’s freight rail network.”

Previously, rail workers and train operators had relied on fixed land line telephones and use of mobile or satellite phones where available for communication.

“Our customers’ train drivers can now continuously communicate with Train Control throughout the Goldfields-Esperance region without disruption,” Lowney explained, “making the communication process far more efficient and rail operations safer.”

The radio and transmission networks were fully designed using in-house expertise, Brookfield said. The project also involved the installation of fibre optic cable, new radio towers and communication equipment rooms.

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

11 rail commitments in Victorian Budget

Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allan has described the state’s 2015/16 Budget as “the biggest investment in public transport in Victoria’s history,” with as much as $6.32 billion committed to rail projects.

Allan said the Budget, which was handed down on Tuesday, lays the foundations for a public transport system able to move millions more people as Victoria grows into Australia’s most populous state.

“The Andrews Labor Government is investing in the transport projects that Victoria needs, so people can get to work and get back home to their families safer and sooner,” Allan said.

“This investment is a part of the Labor Government’s plan for a high-capacity, high-frequency train system where you don’t need a timetable – you just turn up and go.”

11 separate commitments directly relevant to rail are included in the 2015/16 Budget:

  1. $2.4 billion is committed to kick-start the Andrews Government’s planned removal of 50 of Victoria’s most dangerous and congested level crossings.The commitment will see the removal of at least 20 level crossings in the Government’s first term. If the Andrews Government lasts beyond that, and all 50 crossings are removed, the scheme will cost a total of between $5 and $6 billion.
  2. $2 billion  will be spent on 83 new trams and trains across the state’s metro and regional rail passenger networks. As announced on Monday, the funding will finance the delivery of:
    • 37 new high capacity metro trains ($1.3 billion)
    • 20 new E-Class trams ($274 million)
    • 21 new VLocity carriages ($257 million)
    • 5 new X’Trapolis trains ($90 million)
    • Maintenance and refurbishment to extend the life of the current Comeng train fleet ($75 million)
    • Extending the life of the B-Class Tram fleet ($21 million)
  3. $1.5 billion will go towards the first works to construct the Melbourne Metro Rail project. Premier Daniel Andrews made headlines in April by announcing the planned spending, which will go towards anticipated planning, design and significant early works for the project, which is expected to commence construction in 2018. The Melbourne Metro is expected to cost $9 to $11 billion to complete.
  4. Up to $220 million could go to the Murray Basin Rail project, once the business case for that project is finalised in coming months. $30 million has already been fast-tracked to this project, Allan said.
  5. $55.6 million is provided for Stage 1 of Victoria’s first trial of High-Capacity Signalling, set to be rolled out on the Sandringham line.
  6. $50.5 million is set aside to upgrade 52 level crossings
  7. $50 million has been committed to trial the Homesafe scheme – a plan for all night public transport on weekends, to begin on January 1, 2016. The Government says the plan is designed to get shift workers and late night travellers home safely.
  8. $18.8 million in funding is assigned to a road and rail minor works fund, intended to be used to pay for critical maintenance and improvements around the transport network.
  9. $13.1 million is committed to upgrade the Frankston Station precinct. $50 million is set to be made available for this project in future budgets, Allan said.
  10. $9 million is for the planning and preparation of the business case for the Mernda Rail Link, with remaining funds for the project to be assigned in future budgets.
  11. $2 million has been committed to the Bendigo Metro Rail Project.

All in all, the 2015/16 Budget commits to just over $6.3 billion in spending for rail or rail-related projects, but almost all of that spending sets the scene for even more state spending down the track. Projects like Melbourne Metro, the Rolling Stock plan, and the level crossing removal scheme will likely all see more money spent in coming years.

The Australasian Railway Association yesterday congratulated the Victorian Government for delivering “a strong, smart transport infrastructure plan that will not only future-proof the efficiency and productivity of the state’s heavy and light rail networks; but also provide greater certainty to local rolling stock manufacturers and suppliers”.

ARA’s new interim chairman, Bob Herbert, said the Budget was a clear sign that the state was listening to the rail industry.

“This announcement supports the ARA’s priority policies that were outlined to all the political parties prior to the Victorian election late last year, which included greater orders of rolling stock for metro and regional train services; acceleration of the renewal of Melbourne’s tram fleet with E-class light rail vehicles to meet growing demand; and a mandated 50 per cent local content in all rolling stock orders – all of which are outlined in this Budget,” Herbert said.

“Support from Government for our local rail manufacturing industry is imperative to its future, having watched the decimation of Australian rail manufacturing and the loss of jobs that goes with that over the past decade.

“This injection of funding in to the local rail manufacturing industry will ease ongoing pressures and enable industry to invest in new innovation and technologies as well as broaden the skill set of workers.”

Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Hunter Valley network on track; North Coast remains closed

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is still unable to operate serviced beyond Maitland, but main line operations for local passenger trains have returned to the Hunter network since it was closed last week due to flooding.

The ARTC said on Sunday night that the Hunter Valley network should be opened by Monday morning, but confirmed that the North Coast line would remain closed.

Following flooding and high winds last week, the ARTC shut the Hunter Valley network between Maitland and the Port of Newcastle, along with its North Coast network.

Initially the authority believed it could re-open the Hunter network on Friday last week, but flood waters were slow to retreat, and the ARTC announced a further closer to the Hunter network of 48 hours.

The ARTC said on Monday that it would be able to give a forecast for return to services between Maitland and the port sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

“With flood waters dropping over the weekend and improved weather conditions, ARTC teams have been able to make good progress with repairs to the track between the Port of Newcastle and Maitland,” the ARTC said.

A Pacific National test train was run on the track to de-scale the rail and ensure all repaired signaling and track circuitry was working properly.

“The Maitland flood gates remain up but water has been dropping at a rate that we expect the gates to be removed tomorrow morning,” the ARTC said.

“There are still sections of track with high water levels around Wallis Creek, and this will be the key area of focus for our team after the flood gates come down.

“Some parts of the network are still without power, and there remains a sizeable track repair and signalling repair job to take place over coming days.”

The ARTC said crews will continue to work through the week to return the track to normal operating conditions.

“Residents are advised that this will involve heavy track repair machines working around-the-clock conducting track resurfacing and rail grinding.

“This is essential to get the network back up and running and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

The corporation said it will continue to work with customers and the Hunter coal chain on an operational start up plan for coal, passenger and general freight that will take into account the need to meet passenger timetables, provide coal customers with access to the port, “and above all, safety”.

The North Coast network, which sustained substantial damage during last week’s extreme weather – including severe ballast washouts and several landslips – remains closed, with no forecast for re-opening yet offered by the ARTC.

Funding approved for first stage of ATMS implementation

Australia’s rail and logistics industries have welcomed the Federal Government’s approval of the $15.5 million first tranche of funding towards the implementation of the Advanced Train Management System project.

Deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and regional development Warren Truss announced the funding approval on Tuesday morning.

Viewed as the next development in rail communication and management, the Australian Rail Track Corporation says the implementation of ATMS will see modern technology to significantly upgrade capabilities of the Australian rail industry.

According to the ARTC, the ATMS will:

  1. Replace trackside signalling with in-locomotive displays of authorities to drivers
  2. Provide precise location of trains both front and rear
  3. Provide new digital network control centres, each capable of controlling all traffic on the ARTC national network
  4. Provide a back up capability in the event of failure at one control centre
  5. Provide enforcement of authorities on each locomotive if a train is at risk of exceeding its authority
  6. Provide switch settings and automatic route clearances
  7. Provide information (voice and data) to all locomotives via the Telstra 3G National Network.

“ATMS uses GPS navigation, broadband communications and state-of-the-art computer technology to locate and route trains in real time, allowing trains to operate more safely and closer together,” Truss said on Tuesday.

“ATMS will further improve the reliability of our national rail network, increasing on-time performance and safety. It will also increase capacity for the movement of freight across the nation, boosting the productivity of our industries.”

Truss said the Australian Government has committed $50 million to start the roll out of ATMS across Australia, with trains operating between Whyalla and Port Augusta in South Australia set to be the first to implement ATMS as part of stage one of the project.

ARTC chief executive and managing director John Fullerton said ATMS will transform the industry.

“ATMS will be gradually scaled up in a live but safe operational environment so the system’s full capabilities can be tested,” Fullerton said.

“Initial trials commenced in January 2015 and so far two locomotives that travel between Port Augusta and Whyalla have been fitted with in-cab ATMS equipment.

“Planning is already underway for the next set of trials which will involve further consultation with the end users of the system, rail operators. These trials are expected to commence later this year.

“The system is custom-engineered technology and will transform the way freight rail infrastructure is managed and monitored across the country.”

The first stage of implementation is being jointly delivered by ARTC and Lockheed Martin Australia.

Australasian Railway Association chief executive officer Bryan Nye welcomed the news.

“ATMS is designed to improve rail network capacity and reliability, through a communication based train management system that allows network controllers and the train drivers to operate in closer proximity than ever before and to be assured that they are doing it safely,” Nye said.

“ATMS is the cornerstone technology that will boost improved communications and digitalisation in the rail industry.”

Nye said the system would allow the industry to get the most out of existing infrastructure, reducing the need to construct new or upgraded track infrastructure.

“It is incredibly important as it allows for a safer, more cost and time efficient and ultimately more productive system that will benefit not only the Australian rail industry but also the nation’s economy given the forecasted increasing freight task,” he added.

Australian Logistics Council managing director Michael Kilgariff also welcomed the news, saying it meant 21st Century technologies would be harnessed to maximise freight efficiency.

“Economic analysis undertaken by ALC shows productivity boosting initiatives, such as the ATMS project, will deliver broader economic benefits in the billions of dollars.”

According to an ALC report released in July 2014, a 1% improvement in efficiency in the rail sector can generate $2 billion in gains for the economy every year.

“Future-focused technology, like ATMS, enhances the capacity for industry to transport products around Australia’s rail system more efficiently and safely,” Kilgariff said.

PTV's new tramTRACKER system on the Yarra Trams network. Photo: Yarra Trams

PTV rolls out tramTRACKER to 50 more stops

The successful trial of a solar-powered arrival prediction system for Public Transport Victoria’s Yarra Trams  network has resulted in the addition of the mini units to 50 more stops.

PTV installed tramTRACKER units at nine tram spots on the Melbourne network in 2014, and found they resulted in “a high degree of satisfaction” among customers.

“The success of this trial meant funding approval from PTV for a further 50 tram stops,” the company said this morning.

The tramTRACKER live arrival prediction screens are designed to deliver information on the next arriving trams in real time. They include voice options for visually impaired customers, alerts for planned or unplanned disruptions and advice on which trams are low-floor for easy access.

PTV says the units are suited to fit all of its tram stops, while solar power was chosen to improve network sustainability.

Installation of the 50 new devices was completed at the end of March.

PTV also recently installed 30 new remote PA units, after 10 such units were successfully trialled on Collins Street last year.

The PA units allow operator Yarra Trams to broadcast live to passengers at tram stops across the CBD. Typical announcements include safety reminders, information about extra trams to special events, and service disruption information.

PTV chief executive Mark Wild said the authority was committed to improving customer experience across its networks.

“Real-time information provided by these innovations helps customers make more informed decisions about their travel options,” Wild said.

Yarra Trams chief Clément Michel said the tramTRACKER mini units provide a lower cost option to many alternatives.

“tramTRACKER mini uses existing passenger information infrastructure found at tram stops which has been used for many years,” Michel explained.

“The design of tramTRACKER mini includes a number of anti-vandal features and provides automatic alerts back to the Operations Centre when the data feed cannot be found.

“Customers surveyed thought this was a great way to provide live disruption information at tram stops.”

The new PA systems, Michel added, will provide an extra level of quality customer experience.

“Live announcements will mean customers receive more detailed information than is possible through digital information displays at the stop,” he said.

“They will provide updates on the status of the disruption and alternative travel options where possible.”

tramTRACKER mini units are now located at the following tram stops:

Bridge Road at:

  • Bosisto Street
  • Church Street
  • Richmond Town Hall
  • Coppin Street
  • Burnley Street
  • Yarra Boulevard

Brunswick Street at:

  • Fitzroy Bowling Club
  • Gertrude Street
  • Johnston Street
  • Hanover Street
  • Leicester Street
  • Newry Street
  • Alexandra Parade

Burwood Road at

  • St James Park
  • Hawthorn Station

Gertrude Street at:

  • Brunswick Street
  • Napier Street

Gisborne Street at:

  • Albert Street

Queens Parade at:

  • Clifton Hill Interchange

Smith Street at:

  • Johnston Street
  • Rose Street
  • Gertrude Street
  • Peel Street
  • Keele Street
  • Alexandra Parade

Swan Street at:

  • Lennox Street
  • Church Street
  • Edinburg Street
  • Burnley Street
  • Stawell Street
  • Madden Grove
  • Punt Road
  • Richmond Station

Toorak Road at:

  • South Yarra Station

Victoria Street at:

  • North Richmond Station
  • Nicholson Street
  • Church Street
  • Flockhart Street
  • McKay Street
  • Leslie Street

Wellington Parade at:

  • Lansdowne Street
  • Simpson Street
Leader Street Crossing. Photo: Google

‘Substantial’ damage to Aurizon train in Mile End collision

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will investigate last week’s collision between two trains at Mile End, South Australia.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) reported the collision last week, announcing that an intermodal train had collided with another freight train just before 8am on Tuesday, March 31, at Mile End, in Adelaide’s inner west.

Rail Express reported the incident last week, with details sourced from the ARTC’s initial announcements.

An investigation was launched by the ATSB soon afterwards, with more details released.

“At about 0730 (CDT) on 31 March 2015, intermodal freight train 2MP9, operated by SCT Logistics, passed signal No. 1 displaying a ‘Proceed at low speed, prepare to stop indication’ at the southern end of the Mile End Loop,” the bureau reported.

“Train 2MP9 proceeded past the signal No.1, at low speed, but subsequently collided with the rear end of intermodal freight train 2MP1, operated by Aurizon, that was at stop on the Main Line waiting to depart.

“There were no injuries to the train crew of either train and while there was only minor damage to train 2MP9, train 2MP1 incurred substantial impact damage to wagons along the length of the train, with three wagons fully derailed.”

Both trains were on their way to Perth, having left Melbourne.

The ATSB is expecting to complete its investigation by October this year.

Cranbourne-Pakenham Upgrade. Graphic: Labor Victoria

Labor replaces ‘Liberal con’ plan for Cranbourne-Pakenham with its own

Victoria’s new Labor Government has dropped the former Liberal Government’s $2.5 billion upgrade proposal for the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, and has launched an upgrade plan of its own.

The Andrews Government announced on Tuesday that it will not proceed with the existing proposal for the Cranbourne-Pakenham line, which it said “was brought to the previous government as a complex unsolicited bid by a private sector consortium”.

Labor said the plan “didn’t go far enough and couldn’t even deliver what the Liberals had promised,” and said it estimated the project costs would blow out to $3.1 billion – $600 million more than the plan estimated.

“The Liberals promised billions of taxpayer dollars to a private sector consortium without knowing if the project would even work,” state treasurer Tim Pallas said.

“The Liberals lied about their own project, disregarded their own process, and came close to blowing billions of taxpayer dollars on a proposal that didn’t stack up.”

Minister for public transport Jacinta Allan added: “The unsolicited bid was riddled with problems. It wasn’t up to scratch and didn’t go far enough. We’re getting on with a bigger and better plan.”

Private consortium members MTR, John Holland Rail and UGL will reportedly be paid $30 million in compensation, and the Andrews Government will buy their intellectual property for the upgrade to the line.

The new plan will see 37 new trains added to the line, with 50% of their construction to take place in Australia.

Nine level crossings will be removed between Dandenong and Caulfield, and four stations will be rebuilt: Clayton, Carnegie, Murrumbeena and Hughesdale.

A new train depot and maintenance facility will be put in Pakenham, and new and upgraded rail infrastructure will be installed in the corridor, including power and signalling upgrades.

“Fewer level crossings and more trains means fewer delays and more services, every single day,” Allan said. “It will transform Melbourne’s busiest rail line.

“Removing level crossings will create Victorian jobs. Building trains locally will protect Victorian jobs. This helps our transport system and our economy.”

Premier Andrews said: “I live in the south-east so I know the level crossings nightmare all too well.

“The boom gates between Dandenong and Caulfield stay down for up to 80 minutes over the morning peak. If we don’t act now, transport in the south-east will eventually grind to a halt.

“We’re removing 50 of our most dangerous and congested level crossings, to get people home safer and sooner.”

Parramatta Station

Network struggles force Baird to offer only modest rail promise

NSW premier Mike Baird and transport minister Gladys Berejiklian have promised two extra express services in the morning on the train line between Parramatta and the City, but say they will have to upgrade the network before that can be delivered.

Baird and Berejiklian on Monday vowed to invest in new infrastructure, signalling and power supply in Western Sydney, allowing for the extra train services, but Berejiklian later told the media that this would likely mean the extra services – two each morning; totalling ten a week – wouldn’t be online until 2016 or 2017.

“We’re focused on improving the lives of people across NSW and a priority is delivering fast, reliable and convenient public transport services,” Baird said.

“Labor slashed hundreds of rail services in government and left public transport in a complete mess.”

Baird explained that “significant infrastructure” is needed to deliver the additional train services, including upgrading signalling between Westmead and Granville, power upgrades and more tracks at Parramatta for extra trains. Work is expected to take two to three years.

Berejiklian said these projects make up the first stage of the Western Sydney Rail Upgrade Program, a multi-billion dollar project promised by the Baird Government which will deliver more trains services to Western Sydney.

“The additional express services are just the beginning of benefits that will be realised through the government’s plans,” Berejiklian said.

“A fast-tracked Second Harbour Crossing and Western Sydney Rail upgrade will allow us to deliver a 60% increase in capacity throughout the network, moving an extra 100,000 people per hour.”

Member for Parramatta Geoff Lee said the extra express train services from Parramatta to the CBD will no doubt be extremely popular with locals.

“This is fantastic news for the Parramatta community – I know so many people will benefit from these express services and have more time to spend with family and friends,” Lee said.

“The Baird Government has delivered major improvements across public transport and we are listening to the community and will continue to deliver what they want.”