Services to resume following fatal XPT derailment

Normal operations are set to return on the North East line in Victoria following the fatal XPT derailment at the Wallan loop last week.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said operators advise that freight and passenger services will resume soon as repair works to damaged sections of the Wallan loop are almost complete. 

“Teams of up to 70 people at a time have been working around the clock to make the rail line available for freight and passenger rail services,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

Operators advised that subject to regulatory checks, services may start back on track from Thursday evening. Freight services are expected to resume first with passenger trains to follow. 

Rail services will resume after the relevant approvals from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR).

The carriages of the train involved are being moved progressively back to Sydney, and rail works have included replacing 300 sleepers, laying 20 lengths of rail and 800 tonnes of ballast, as well as undertaking signalling works which are in their concluding stages.

John Fullerton, CEO of Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) visited the site on Thursday 27 February to thank rail staff working to repair the extensive damage to the track.

“A week ago, we lost two much-loved members of the rail family. This accident devastated families, friends, and colleagues, as well as an industry that prides itself on safety, and everyone wants to understand what happened and what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again,” Fullerton said.

“For ARTC, our focus has been four-fold for the past week: cooperating with investigations underway, supporting our staff and contractors, working alongside emergency services and NSW Transport to safely remove the train, and repairing the track so it is available again for use.

“I would like to take this opportunity to give my heartfelt thanks to the teams of staff who have worked hard in tragic circumstances to undertake these tasks.”

A fire destroyed the Wallan signal box three weeks ago and caused  signals to be out of commission in the area along the section of the derailment.

The investigation will examine whether live signal testing by ARTC had been occurring along the track at the time of the derailment.

V/Line utilises sections of track where the derailment occurs and bans live testing of signals while services are still running.

The Herald Sun reported that senior Victorian transport sources said that running trains through the track where signals were not bagged increased risk, and the way they had been marked with a cross tied together with plastic was a “disgrace”.

An ARTC spokesperson said they have been providing full support to investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), ONRSR and the Victorian coroner.

The ATSB will release a preliminary report in about a month, while the final report coming in about 18 months.

$235m North East Rail Line upgrade continues following XPT derailment

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and Transport for NSW (TfNSW) are collaborating to repair damaged sections of the Wallan loop following the XPT train derailment north of Melbourne last week.

On Tuesday, February 25, the front power car of the train was loaded onto a truck and removed from the site.

An ARTC spokesperson said two carriages will be taken to Sydney in the coming days before the trucks return and pick up the remaining two carriages later this week.

As of the afternoon of February 25, around three quarters of sleepers have been laid, half of the rail has been laid, signalling repairs are underway and ballasting continues.

“The main line in the immediate vicinity of the accident has been inspected, with no significant damage reported,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

Early works like ballast and track improvement, improvements to timber bridges, level crossing renewals and installation of new rail crossovers, have been ongoing since last year part of the federal Government funded $235m North East Rail Line upgrade.

An ARTC spokesperson said site set up and establishment of the major contractor’s office commenced in December and works have started, commencing from Wodonga, moving south.

Ballast trains have been delivering ballast to various work sites for a number of weeks.

Targeted track tamping program has been operating since October 2019 and 130km of tamping has been completed.

Two track tamping machines are stationed in north east Victoria for ongoing use.

“Our primary focus, and key priority at all times, is to run a safe railway network for our customers and those that use it. ARTC will continue to provide all the support we can to both the investigation and response to this incident. The investigation will be complex and consider a range of factors,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

TfNSW said in a statement the NSW Government is working closely with colleagues in Victoria and the Federal Government to investigate how the accident occurred.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

Wreckage removed and repairs underway at Wallan following fatal XPT derailment

Transport for NSW and the ARTC are managing the recovery effort following the XPT train derailment north of Melbourne on Thursday.

The Australian Transport Safety bureau (ATSB) and the Victorian Government’s Chief Inspector, Transport Safety (CITS) are leading the investigation.

At 6.30am Sunday morning, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) prepared a site with three cranes to lift the trains and carriages.

By 9.15am the rear locomotive and carriage departed the site. Parts of the train were examined in a specialist Sydney workshop on Monday.

Materials and supplies began to arrive to the site on Monday for repairs to begin. Track infrastructure that will need to be repaired includes 300 sleepers, 20 lengths of rail, 800 tonnes of ballast across roughly 300-500 metres of track.

An ARTC spokesperson said this work will continue throughout the coming days, reflecting the complexities of the recovery.

“Early this week we expect to begin the repairs to the track and signal infrastructure which was damaged in the incident,” he said.

Equipment including sleepers, rail, and signalling equipment will be delivered to the site to repair the rail infrastructure once the XPT is removed.

“The site is being carefully controlled to ensure the safety of all those who are now involved in the site recovery and repair,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

John Kennedy, the 54-year-old train driver from Canberra, had emailed his friend with concerns about the safety of the North East line in the weeks leading up to the derailment.

The email sent on February 3rd revealed that Kennedy noted his last six Melbourne return trips have been “very late or cancelled mainly due to train fault issues”.

“3 of the six runs I was down to one engine, on another trip I had no speedo and the only trip without a train fault was disrupted by the big derailment last week,” Kennedy’s email said. 

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50km outside of Melbourne, just before 8pm on Thursday evening.

The express passenger train was carrying 153 passengers and five crew at the time of the derailment. Two of those crew members – the driver and the pilot – were killed in the derailment.

Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) Victoria secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the rail community is angry at the Federal government for its failure to invest in a safe and reliable 21st century interstate rail network.

ARTC’s rules allow for trains to continue at normal speeds while under the control of a pilot under such conditions. Operators including Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) and V/line, however, impose an automatic speed restriction of 25kmh.

XPT services were running on the main line through Wallan for the past two week at track speed of around 100-130 k/hr.

Grigorovitch said ARTC changed the route for trains through Wallan, moving trains from the main line to a passing loop line.

“A Track Authority notice was issued calling for 15k/hr speed restriction on trains entering the passing loop, it appeared that there were a range of likely contributing factors to the derailment,” she said.

“The RTBU believes, however, that if ARTC imposed the same speed restrictions under pilot that are applied by MTM and V/Line, the incident may have been avoided.”

Grigorovitch said the Melbourne-Sydney rail line is known within the industry as the “goat track” because it is in such bad condition.

“For example, sections of the track are full of mud holes,” she said.

Grigorovitch is calling for Australia’s regional and interstate rail infrastructure to be safer.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Friday in Wallan that no authority in Australia would allow a train to travel on an unsafe track as “the ARTC monitors these things very closely and regularly”.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), in collaboration with the Victorian Government’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CITS), is investigating the derailment of the XPT passenger train.

On site, investigators will examine the track infrastructure, the XPT power cars and carriages, and map the accident layout.

The ATSB will obtain and analyse available information and records, including the train data logger, signalling data, and maintenance records for the train and track infrastructure.  

The ATSB stated that a preliminary report will be released in about a month after the on-site phase, while the investigation’s final report can be expected to be released in about 18 months’ time. 

Services suspended following V/Line and freight train crash

A V/Line train collided with a wagon from a derailed freight train on Wednesday evening south of Wodonga in Victoria.

An Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) spokesperson said ARTC can confirm an incident has occurred on its rail network between Chiltern and Barnawartha at approximately 5.40pm on Wednesday.

The ARTC spokesperson advised that a northbound freight train derailed and a passenger train service travelling south on the adjacent track struck a wagon of the freight train.

The 5.20pm V/Line Albury to Melbourne passenger service was travelling south on the adjacent track when it subsequently struck one of the freight train’s wagons.

The ARTC spokesperson said the train line “currently remains suspended to all services and the site is quarantined for attendance by independent safety regulators and for incident investigations through today,”

“Track opening will be subject to recovery and infrastructure damage assessments following site incident investigations across a roughly 1.7 kilometres long area,”

“A more detailed forecast of reopening will be provided once a full assessment of damage to the track is able to take place.”

ARTC said in a statement that their priority at this stage is to ensure the safety of the persons involved and assisting attending emergency authorities.

A CFA spokesperson said a number of the wagons were alight when emergency services arrived, and the flames sparked a grassfire.

The grassfire was deemed safe at 8.15pm Wednesday evening.

A VicEmergency update stated that the “train incident is still ongoing and is currently being assessed by the relevant agencies.”

There are no reported injuries to passengers or crews of either train service.

The ARTC will provide further updates as they become available. 

Qld, NSW experience freight rail incidents during holiday season

In late December, four Pacific National freight train wagons, transporting copper anodes, derailed at Mingela on the Mount Isa line.

In response, Queensland Rail immediately closed the rail corridor between Sellheim and Mingela for all rail traffic while response crews worked to secure and inspect the site.

Recovery crews soon commenced necessary repairs and the network was opened less than a week later.

Crews broke down the damaged track, completed reballasting and replaced the damaged sleepers and rail. Recovery works were fast-tracked by the ability to source locally and services were able to resume before the start of the new year.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented bushfire season forced the closure of the Main Southern railway line in NSW, for two days from 4thJanuary to 6th.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) said it suspended operations due to extreme fire conditions and high wind activity in the rail corridor between Macarthur and Goulburn.

As of the 6th of January, ARTC reopened the Main South railway line, following completion of tree removal and restoration of power lines by power supply companies.

“We would like to thank our customers for their patience and cooperation during these unforeseen circumstances. We would also like to thank all emergency services for their support and acknowledge their continuing efforts at this time,” an ARTC spokesperson said.