Full schedule of services resume on Main Western Line

Services on the Main Western line have returned to full capacity after work crews completed repairs to line the line following bushfires and flooding.

Over 150,000 man hours have been put in since the Gospers Mountain Bushfires hit the railway in December. Flooding following heavy rains in February also washed away sections of track.

Some freight services and diesel-powered passenger services had resumed in mid-January, however due to the damage to signalling equipment and overhead powerlines, regular Intercity commuter services were cancelled.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole said that the repairs had covered great lengths to get services back up and running.

“We know just what a vital transport link this line is for both passenger and freight services – and our crews have put in a superhuman effort to repair the devastation caused by the summer bushfires and flash flooding soon after,” said Toole.

“More than 200 employees worked to replace more than 50 kilometres of fibre optic cables and 37km of high voltage power lines damaged in the fires.”

Other equipment that had to be replaced included 75 power poles, a signal control hut, a substation, thousands of small pieces of safe working systems. The high-voltage power supply also had to be rebuilt and 540 trees removed from the corridor.

“It’s been a huge task but it’s great to know services on the Blue Mountains Line are now back on track – and ready to support essential travel for those returning to work and school and from June 1, those looking to enjoy a break in the bush,” said Toole. 

Acting chief executive of Sydney Trains Stewart Mills acknowledge the hard work of those who contributed to getting services back up and running.

“I’d like to thank every person who has worked so hard to rebuild, test and commission infrastructure critical to the safe operation of passenger and freight trains between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.”

Repairs to Blue Mountains line opens up regional services

Work to repair the Blue Mountains line following fires and heavy rains earlier this year has taken a major step forward.

A full timetable of regional trains can now run to and from Sydney, with a temporary signalling system installed, said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

“The temporary signalling system uses axle counters to enable diesel freight and regional trains to operate between Mount Victoria and Lithgow,” the spokesperson said.

The line is a vital link between famers in the rest of the country and resources exporters, and the Sydney basin and Port Botany. The line also provides important connectivity for inland communities.

“Freight operators can now run more trains along the vital corridor with greater track access times. NSW TrainLink is able to run a full timetable for diesel passenger trains, including the second Bathurst Bullet,” said the Sydney Trains spokesperson.

The Blue Mountains line was hit hard in the bushfires of late 2019 and early 2020 with kilometres of track knocked out of commission. Buses have been replacing trains since then, with limited freight and passenger services resuming in late January.

The Sydney Trains spokesperson said Intercity trains, which rely on overhead electrical power, will return to the line once works are complete.

“Works to repair the existing signalling system and overhead electric supply to run Intercity trains to Lithgow continue.”

Sydney Trains misses punctuality target in February

Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink have recorded below target punctuality performance in February 2020, with only 83 per cent of services arriving within five minutes for Sydney Trains services, and 6 minutes for NSW TrainLink services.

The target for both services is to have at least 92 per cent of peak services arrive within these benchmarks.

The February target is the lowest out of the publicly available monthly data going back to July 2018.

A spokesperson for Sydney trains said the result in February can be attributed to severe weather.

“There were multiple weather related events across the rail network in February, including electrical storms causing a tree to falling on overhead wiring at Blackheath, landslips at Artarmon and Leura, flooding at Olympic Park and on the South Coast, elements affecting infrastructure at Hawkesbury River, Lidcombe and on the Southern Highlands, and ongoing bushfire recovery work on the Blue Mountains Line between Mount Victoria and Lithgow.

“This is in addition to a power supply issue at the Hornsby Maintenance Centre, a train requiring mechanical repairs at Lidcombe and a medical emergency at Erskineville,” said the spokesperson.

Services on the T1 line had the worst punctuality result across the network in February, with only 77 per cent of services meeting the benchmark. Within the T1 network, western line services recorded the lowest performance, at 74 per cent reaching the on-time benchmark.

T3 Bankstown services were the best performers during February, however at 87.2 per cent still did not reach the benchmark.

Services were generally closer to being on time in the afternoon peak than in the morning peak. Overall punctuality for the financial year ending February 2020 is 90.9.

Sydney Trains serviced 420 million trips in the last financial year, a 35 per cent increase from 5 years ago. 3,200 services provide 1.4 million people’s journeys each weekday.

ATSB on scene of fatal XPT derailment

Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigators are on the scene of an XPT train derailment north of Melbourne. The derailment claimed the lives of two rail employees and injured several passengers on Thursday evening.

A NSW TrainLink XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed near the Hume Freeway at Wallan, roughly 50kms 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.

Senior ATSB investigators arrived at the scene shortly after 9am Friday morning to commence the formal investigation that will involve Victoria’s Chief Inspector.

Federal and state government officials have confirmed that the ATSB, Work Safe, and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) will conduct a full and thorough investigation to establish the cause of the incident.

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

Michael McCormack said investigations will look at every factor, including examining the speed limit, signalling, track maintenance, and interviewing witnesses.

“The track will not be reopened until everything has been looked at properly by authorities,” he said.

Greg Hood, Chief Commissioner and CEO of ATSB said they will start their investigation straight away once Victoria Police hand over custodian to investigators.

“All evidence will be gathered and examined in the next week or so,” Hood said.

Hood said ATSB will endeavour to release a preliminary report in the next 30 days and a full investigation report will follow.

Victoria Police have confirmed the two fatalities in the crash were the driver, a 54-year-old ACT man, and the train pilot, a 49-year-old Castlemaine woman. Dozens of passengers were taken to Northern and Kilmore hospital for minor injuries following the incident.

Acting inspector Peter Fusinato said the initial investigation will take days and must be completed before the wreckage can be cleared.

The derailment caused the train’s engine and first carriage to be left on their side opposite the track. Both the driver and the worker were in the same area of the train when it came off the tracks.

The standard gauge track is operated by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and has been damaged due to the derailment.

An ARTC spokesperson said services are suspended until further notice, to allow emergency services to respond to a train derailment.

“We are working hard to support emergency services, NSW TrainLink, and investigators to respond to this tragic accident,” the ARTC spokesperson said.

This incident follows a freight train wagon derailment earlier this month in Barnawartha located south of Wodonga, Victoria that caused 1800 damaged sleepers and 180 metres of damaged rail. 

Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said she had written to the Australian Rail Track Corporation to continue with works on lines in the region after the Barnawartha incident three weeks ago.

“If it’s at all relevant, it will be looked at in the context of this investigation,” Hood said.

James Pinder, V/Line chief executive said the section of track was a “particularly complicated part of the infrastructure” because V/Line trains run alongside XPT trains.

“There are separate signalling systems for the different tracks,” he said.

Pinder confirmed V/Line was operating on the track on Thursday, before the Sydney to Melbourne service derailed.

Paul Toole, NSW minister for regional transport said the government can not speculate what investigations will find.

He said agencies across both Federal and State levels will be working closely together during this situation.

The Victorian Department of Transport said services on the Seymour, Shepparton and Albury lines would be affected by the incident today. The line is expected to remain closed for several days.

Ongoing track fault and delays between Albury and Southern Cross stations had been reported by V/Line’s social media updates in recent days leading up to the incident.

The train left Sydney’s Central Station at 7.40am Thursday morning and was running more than an hour late at the time the accident happened. It was due to arrive at Southern Cross Station in Melbourne at 6.30pm.

Several passengers said the train was gaining speed at the time of the accident after being stopped due to a signalling issue.

One passenger told The Age that signals should have alerted the driver to slow down to be able to move into the side track, but he did not notice the train slowing prior to the derailment.

Four hours before the incident yesterday, the Seymour V/Line Twitter account said the 12:45 Albury to Southern Cross service would be delayed by approximately 70 minutes due to an “ongoing rail equipment fault near Wallan”.

Infrastructure Australia said in December last year that the ARTC’s business case for an upgrade of the Melbourne-Albury North East Rail Line should not be ­included on its national priority list.

The business stated that Victoria’s regional trains had a self-imposed speed limit of 15km/h on the entire line from Melbourne to Seymour, due to “poor track quality” including mud holes and tight rail alignments.

Last year the Victorian and Federal Government committed $235mil to upgrade the North East line, due to be completed by 2021.

The Border Mail reported on Thursday that north-east train travellers were being asked to allow an extra 60 minutes for trips after a signal hut at Wallan was destroyed by fire earlier this month.

Luba Grigorovitch, Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) state secretary said the section of track was awaiting maintenance.

“Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week,” she said.

“The RTBU is deeply saddened by the tragic accident that has taken the life of two rail workers and unnecessarily injured many more.

“Today marks a difficult day for drivers and rail workers across the state and the RTBU will be here not only to offer support but to ensure a thorough investigation is undertaken.”

The union had refused to operate in that area because it believed the tracks were degraded.

Danuek Bowen from the Public Transport Users Association said serious accidents on the Australian rail network are very rare, “but that makes it even more important to investigate the cause”.

Emergency crews, including from CFA and SES, scoured the tracks and surrounding scrub until 10am Friday morning.

Ambulance Victoria stated that an air ambulance was not required at the scene and a number of people did not require treatment. One passenger was taken by road to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in a stable condition.

The front locomotive carriage remains on its side as the train has not been moved from the position where it derailed.

Results from an engineering report will determine when it’s safe to travel trains on the line again.

Toole confirmed that the NSW regional rail fleet of XPT are 38 years old and have served their purpose. The aged fleet will be replaced in 2023 as part of the $2.8b upgrade with  Momentum Trains.

The Express Passenger Train (XPT) travels between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubbo, Grafton and Casino.

NSW government praised for resumption of services on Blue Mountains line

After fires forced the closure of the Blue Mountains line in late December and early January, limited services resumed between Mount Victoria and Lithgow on the evening of Monday, January 21.

Bushfires in the Blue Mountains area laid waste to a 25 kilometre stretch of railway, damaging signalling equipment and rail infrastructure. In early January services between Mount Victoria and Lithgow were expected to be closed for months, after being suspended since 19 December.

Minister for Regional Transport and Roads, Paul Toole, highlighted that crews have been working on restoring services since the closure.

“Sydney Trains’ engineers have worked tirelessly to develop temporary systems that will allow us to restore rail connectivity and safely operate a limited number of freight trains from Monday evening and passenger trains from Tuesday 21 January,” he said.

“We recognise how important this rail connection is to passengers travelling to and from the west and to moving freight and we are doing everything possible to resume full services as soon as possible.”

Freight on Rail Group (FORG) of Australia chair Dean Dalla Valle, praised the NSW government for its swift resumption of services, noting that without the rail line, more freight had to be moved via roads.

“NSW Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole MP and Sam Farraway MLC – both Bathurst boys – immediately understood the urgent need to restore rail freight services along the bushfire impacted section of track between Lithgow and Mount Victoria.”

The damage was so extensive that significant parts of the line will need to be wholly restored, said Toole.

“This will be a long recovery process as we are essentially rebuilding some parts of the operating system from scratch.”

Sydney Trains staff have removed over 300 trees and relaid kilometres of communication, electrical, and signal wiring.

Dalla Valle highlighted the nature of the NSW operator’s response.

“I’d also like to call out Sydney Trains Chief Executive Howard Collins OBE for rolling up his sleeves, quickly travelling to bushfire impacted zones to assess first-hand what needed to be done, and liaising closely with industry,” said Dalla Valle.

Schedules are still be altered to account for maintenance, said NSW TrainLink chief executive Pete Allaway.

“The first Bathurst Bullet, the Broken Hill XPLORER and most Dubbo XPT services will resume to a slightly altered timetable, with the remaining affected services to continue to be replaced by coaches and buses while repair work continues.”