Passenger Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation, Safety

Safety actions planned following train tragedy at Wallan, Victoria

A report has recommended safety actions following a train accident in regional Victoria last year that claimed two lives and led to a number of injuries.

SEVERAL safety actions are planned and proposed as a result of the derailment of an XPT passenger train near Wallan, Victoria on 20 February 2020, an Australian Transport Safety Bureau interim report from the on-going investigation into the accident details.

Melbourne-bound XPT passenger train ST23, operated by NSW TrainLink (NSW Trains), derailed after entering a passing loop at a speed probably between 114 and 127 km/h, the interim report notes, when the speed limit for entering the loop was 15 km/h.

The lead power car (locomotive) rolled onto its side and all five passenger cars derailed.

The incident claimed the lives of the train driver and an accompanying qualified worker (AQW) in the lead power car, while of the 155 passengers aboard, eight passengers sustained serious injuries and 53 minor injuries.

The five passenger-services crew located in the train’s passenger cars also sustained minor injuries.

“Today, in releasing an interim report, the ATSB is detailing factual information as to the circumstances of this tragic accident as we understand them, and outlining planned safety actions as proposed by ARTC – the rail infrastructure manager – and NSW Trains, the rail operator, ” said ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood.

“It is important not to draw conclusions from the factual information detailed in this report as there remains a significant body of further analysis work prior to concluding this investigation. Instead, the interim report serves to detail the investigation’s progress to date and to update stakeholders and the travelling public as to our areas of on-going investigation,” he said.

“Findings, safety factors and contributing factors will be detailed in the final report, which is anticipated to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.”

The interim report notes that the rail signalling system for the standard-gauge track through Wallan had been damaged on 3 February 2020. As a result, ARTC was managing trains through the Wallan area using Train Authority procedural systems.

On the day of the derailment, the points at either end of the crossing loop at Wallan had been manually reconfigured to divert rail traffic through the loop, which ARTC had detailed through a supplemental train notice issued on 19 February.

That train notice specified a 15 km/h speed limit for entry into the loop, and a limit of 35 km/h when exiting the loop.

However, analysis of data from the train’s Hasler electro-mechanical data recorder shows that the train was approaching the loop at near the line speed of 130 km/h before a brake application was made a short distance from the turnout to the loop.

“The ATSB has made eight interim observations of the factual information detailed in the interim report,” Mr Hood noted.

“These observations are based upon evidence gathered as part of the investigation, and have been used in the report to highlight and clarify certain items of factual information,” he said.

“Among the observations are those pertaining to ARTC’s implementation of altered train working arrangements and risk management, as well as NSW Trains’ distribution of safety information to rail workers.”

Since the accident, ARTC has advised it is developing amendments to its code of practice for traffic management, and is modifying its risk assessment practices, while NSW Trains is making changes to its procedures for accessing and distributing safety critical information to train crews.

Mr Hood noted that the investigation is being led by Victoria’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CITS), which investigates rail accidents in Victoria on behalf of the ATSB under a collaboration agreement using the powers of the Commonwealth Transport Safety Investigation Act (TSI Act) 2003. The investigation is also being supported by the ATSB and NSW’s Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI).

“As the investigation continues, there will be further consideration of a number of factors including the management of train operations and associated risk management, and the distribution of safety critical operational information to train operators and crew,” said chief investigator, transport safety Chris McKeown.

Other areas of ongoing investigation include further human factors analysis and rail vehicle survivability and crashworthiness standards.

“The investigation team will also finalise their analysis of the derailment sequence and their assessments of the condition of the rolling stock and track conditions,” Mr McKeown said.

“They will also review passenger services crew training and preparedness for a derailment, and passenger safety information.”