Union supports speed restrictions in Wallan following fatal derailment

The Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU) stated that it is pleased that the rail industry is taking the union’s concerns seriously.

The union wrote to the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Pacific National, V/Line and NSW Trains to request detailed information regarding plans for resuming services services through Wallan following the fatal XPT derailment last week.

ARTC advised the union on Thursday, February 27 that it would be imposing a 20km/h speed limit through Wallan. It also advised that the signalling infrastructure through Wallan was now operational.

Pacific National has advised the RTBU that it has imposed an 90km/h speed restriction between Seymour and Albury, and drivers are being instructed to adhere to an ARTC’s temporary speed restriction of 20km/h.

An RTBU spokesperson said the union’s Victorian branch has commenced discussions with V/Line, and the union’s NSW branch has also begun discussions with NSW Trains.

“At this point, we’re pleased that ARTC, PN, V/Line and NSW Trains are taking our concerns seriously. In particular, the companies have taken action on our concerns regarding track speed and signalling,” an RTBU spokesperson said.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has inspected the corridor and consented to the recommissioning of the track.

An ARTC spokesperson said services on the North East Rail Line resumed on Friday, February 28, with the first Melbourne-Brisbane freight service passing through at 2.50am on Friday morning. 

An RTBU spokesperson said there are still more questions that need to be answered.

“It is important that all workers involved in services along the corridor are fully informed, and are able to raise any safety-related concerns,” an RTBU spokesperson said. 

On Monday, March 2, John Fullerton, ARTC CEO appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Canberra to address ARTC’s response over the past eleven days following the XPT derailment.

Fullerton said despite working hard to prevent accidents and prepare extensively in case they happen, the worst possible outcome happened earlier this month.

He said over the past 11 days, ARTC have supported staff and contractors, been working with emergency services and Transport for NSW to safely remove the train, repairing the track so it is available again for use and cooperating with investigations underway.

In terms of supporting staff and contractors, many of our staff personally knew the people who were killed in the accident, and many others were involved in the first response,” Fullerton said to the committee.

We are very aware of the potential impact that this could have on staff, and have been widely advising those who need to, to access the services they need through our Employee Assistance Program. We have also been asking them to take care of one another.”

Fullerton said the industry collectively owes it to John Kennedy, the driver from Canberra, and Sam Meintanis, the pilot from Castlemaine, to work with the investigators to understand what happened and what actions need to be taken to prevent it ever happening again, as they were “two employees in our industry who went to work and never came home”.

He said ARTC has been providing full support to investigators from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), ONRSR and the Victorian coroner.

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.

ARTC to modify reference design for Inland Rail route

John Fullerton, Australian Rail Track Corporation CEO, said “the current route is not locked in,” at a senate inquiry hearing of the management of the Inland Rail project, held on January 30 in Brisbane.

Richard Wankmuller CEO for the Inland Rail Programme said “we understand we need to improve.”

One senator called out “Mr Fullerton, there are pitchforks waiting for you,” as the CEO addressed “white hot anger” concerns of the proposed inland rail route from QLD senators.

Fullerton said the potential “fatal flaw” is floods. 

The ability to construct a public safety model that aligns with the proposed Inland Rail route through the McIntyre floodplain is the main area of concern, Fullerton stated in the hearing.

“There are a number of areas of concern that we’re looking at,” Wankmuller said.

“We’ve finished about 90 per cent of the reference design phase and we’re modifying the reference design.”

Fullerton said ARTC’s main priority is investigating floodplains and “increasing transparency”.

“I get people are scared, and it’s our obligation to [construct] something that is safe,” Wankmuller said.

“This is not just an ARTC program, that is a community program and there is no way we can be successful without community, council, and private sectors.”

Fullerton’s hearing follows criticism that the major freight rail corridor will go through one of Australia’s largest floodplains, raised from the rural Senate Committee meeting in Millmerran on Wednesday evening. 

Goondiwindi Mayor Graeme Scheu said the regional council is an advocate for the project, but object ARTC’s decision-making process.

Scheu stated to the committee that the decision to announce D1 as the preferred design option “came as a major surprise to everyone in our region”.

“From the minute D1 was announced, it has been the opinion of Goondiwindi Regional Council that if the route had to cross the floodplain (primarily to appease the time restraints), then the only acceptable solution would be an elevated bridge from the Queensland side to Wearne on the NSW side,” he said.

“I must reaffirm that Goondiwindi Regional Council is supportive of the Inland Rail Project and have been for many years but the decision making process of ARTC leaves a lot to be desired.”

Goondiwindi Regional Council stated they are advocating to overturn the D1 route design option and “believes the decision should be over turned to the alternative option of A”.

“The route directly crosses the floodplain, minimising the flood potential once the Whalan escape route is fully addressed.

Community consultation results and opinion will support Option A over D1.”

Fullerton said that “this is a complicated project that is important to people,” and recognises that engagement in the past “wasn’t up to speed”.

“We are looking where we have made the right decision or where a different decision should be made.

“There is government procedures in everything we do, we meet with the minister’s department for monthly and quarterly reporting to look at each issue.”

The Inland Rail route will be about 1,700km in length across Queensland, NSW, and Victoria and is scheduled to be completed by 2025.