Investigations begun and completed into freight rail incidents

Investigations into two freight rail incidents have begun and been completed this week.

The completed investigation targeted the dewiring of over a kilometre of overhead powerlines in 2018. In this case, the ATSB investigation found that the collapsible walls of the flat racks were not secured by personnel at the Acacia Ridge terminal.

When passing through Cooroy on the North Coast line in Queensland, the rear end wall of the top of a stack of flat racks was extended, leading to it becoming entangled with overhead line equipment (OHLE), including copper wire. The wires were dragged along the platform at Cooroy, where luckily no one was present, however a south-bound train was due to arrive in 30 minutes.

Another concern in the incident was train crew entering the three-metre exclusion zone around the OHLE, before the wires were isolated and earthed. Although de-energised, the cables were not electrically safe.

ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker said the incident showed the need for effective processes for emergencies and in freight terminals.

“This occurrence has highlighted the importance of having checklists for rarely conducted tasks and emergency response tasks in the rail environment, and ensuring these checklists are readily available and used by operational personnel,” said Walker.

Aurizon, which operates the Acacia Ridge terminal and the train in the incident, has updated its safety processes in response to the incident and investigation. Network manager Queensland Rail has also mandated a network control officer checklist for OHLE emergencies.

Another investigation has been opened into a freight train derailing near Lake Bathurst. The Pacific National-operated service, a loaded garbage waste train, derailed after a wheel bearing assemble on the trailing axle of the lead bogie of one of the wagons failed.

The derailment lasted for a distance of roughly 2,500m. No one was injured however there was damage to the wagon’s bogie and frame and minor damage to track infrastructure. The NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI) is conducting the investigation on behalf of the ATSB.

Fremantle port shuttle to move more freight via rail

A new port shuttle rail service between Fremantle Port and the Perth Freight Terminal in Kewdale could take over 20,000 return truck trips off roads in Fremantle and Perth each year.

Pacific National began the port shuttle rail service last month and is looking to ramp up volumes on the route in September. Up to five port shuttle services are on offer each week, with each train having the capacity to haul 100 shipping containers from the North Quay Rail Terminal at Fremantle Port to Kewdale.

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle said that there is the potential to move up to 26,000 shipping containers from trucks and onto rail each year with the service.

“Daily train shuttle services between Fremantle Port and Perth Freight Terminal are by far the safest, most efficient and environmentally-friendly way to haul large volumes of freight,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting more freight from Fremantle Port to Kewdale will be essential to avoid Perth’s roads being clogged with large trucks. Container volumes at Fremantle Port are expected to increase to over 1.2 million TEUs by 2031, near double 2016 figures, according to the Perth Freight Transport Network Plan.

Significant increases are also expected in iron and steel imports, agricultural and other machinery, and motor vehicles.

Demand for rail freight is expected to increase by 50 per cent over the next two decades.

The Western Australian government hopes to move more freight via rail through upgrades to infrastructure, such as track duplication, and improved efficiencies on the existing network.

The need for effective and efficient freight networks with rail as the backbone has only come to more prominence since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For the first time in a long time, people have started to understand and appreciate the finely tuned nature and criticality of our nation’s freight supply chains. They are the arteries supplying our economic lifeblood,” said Dalla Valle.

“Shifting haulage of large volumes of containerised freight from road to rail benefits the broader WA community. It results in fewer road accidents and fatalities, reduced traffic congestion and vehicle emissions, and less wear and tear on local and state roads.”

ACCC seeks to take Acacia Ridge sale to High Court

The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) has sought leave to appeal to the High Court Pacific National’s purchase of Aurizon’s Acacia Ridge Terminal.

In May, the Full Federal Court, on appeal, found that the sale would not substantially lessen competition in the rail freight sector.

If the ACCC’s appeal is successful, it will be the first time that the High Court has heard a case with Australia’s merger laws.

Pacific National has criticised the ACCC’s pursual of the case, which had been heard and ruled upon twice at the Federal Court level.

“Pacific National was looking forward to completing the transaction and adding the Acacia Ridge Terminal to its network of efficient freight terminals, and this will once again be delayed while the ACCC seeks to further appeal what Pacific National considered was a comprehensive and correct decision by the Federal Court,” said a Pacific National spokesperson.

Aurizon has said in a statement that it would continue to operate the Acacia Ridge terminal and expected the leave application to be heard and decided before the end of 2020.

The ACCC has been pursuing the case as it sees the case as a test of Australia’s merger laws. In addition, the ACCC is attempting to seek a finding as to whether a court can accept an undertaking after finding a proposed acquisition is anti-competitive.

“We are seeking special leave to appeal to the High Court because it is vital for Australian businesses and consumers that competition laws are effective in protecting the competitive process,” said Simms.

Pacific National had offered to make an access undertaking which the Federal Court had initially accepted. On appeal the Full Federal Court found that the undertaking was not needed.

Simms said that the Full Federal Court’s decision did not recognise the impact of Pacific National’s purchase of the Acacia Ridge terminal.

“We believe that the Full Federal Court’s decision does not recognise the full impact of the proposed acquisition on competition in this vitally important industry.”