Engineering, Freight Rail

Freight derailment could have been prevented, report says  

Rail track. Photo: Shutterstock

The derailment of a KiwiRail freight train in 2013 could have been avoided if the required brake test had been performed, an accident report has found.

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) said its investigation revealed that KiwiRail freight train 345 departed Glenbrook in early January 2013 with brakes functioning on only its 3 locomotives and not on the 36 wagons that they were hauling.

This was, the report says, due to a poor configuration of the train braking system in the non-driving end of the lead locomotive. At the same time, the train departed without the coupling between the sixth and seventh wagons being properly secured.

As it descended a grade from Glenbrook, the train parted between the improperly secured sixth and seventh wagons, subsequently causing derailment when the rear portion of the train ran into the forward portion.

Twenty-eight of the freight train’s wagons along with track infrastructure were extensively damaged in the accident, while the line had to be closed for over three days for repair work.

The TAIC investigation discovered that the train was able to depart Glenbrook with a wrongly configured brake control as there was no mechanical interlock to prevent it from moving.

Moreover, the report states, the lack of brake function “should have been detected, but was not, because the required brake test had not been performed after a third locomotive was added to the train”.

As KiwiRail has taken safety actions in the aftermath of the incident, and because there has been a downward trend of mainline derailments during the period of the investigation, the TAIC report makes no recommendations.

Rob McAlpine, KiwiRail’s group general manager of operations, was quoted on Fairfax’s website welcoming TAIC’s recognition of its efforts, including the introduction of a new, automated system in the locomotives that prevented the incorrect setting of the brake controls, and extra staff training.

“The incident was serious but fortunately no one was injured,” Mr McAlpine said.

“KiwiRail regards safety as paramount, and we acted quickly to identify and remedy the issues that contributed to it.”

However, TAIC’s report nonetheless outlined several “key lessons” to make train derailments less likely in the future, such as the need for proper staff communication to “ensure that proper procedures are followed”, and, moreover, the requirement that train drivers and examiners “comply with basic operating rules to ensure that trains have fully functioning and continuous air brake systems at all times”.