Recognising a career of over 40 years in the rail freight industry, in November this year SCT Logistics founder and current director Peter Smith was awarded the Australian Freight Industry Award for Personality of the year. To mark the accolade, Rail Express sat down with Peter to hear how the company emerged from humble beginnings to where it stands today. Read more
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has found that a broken rail led to the derailment of a freight train near Goulburn on March 31, 2019.
As the SCT Logistics freight train, travelling from Melbourne to Brisbane, exited a refuge loop in Goulburn, NSW five wagons derailed, obstructing both the Up and Down main lines.
The driver of the train had just been authorised to pass the immediately preceding signal at Stop, which could not be cleared due to a track circuit fault. Another train had passed through the refuge the night before when the fault occurred. The network controlled and the on-call signal electrician had consulted and agreed that trains could continue passing the Stop signal.
After the derailment, the NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigation (OTSI) had conducted an investigation on behalf of the ATSB. OTSI found that the immediate cause of the derailment was a broken rail, which had likely occurred after the previous train, and the break had caused the signal to be stuck at Stop. The broken rail had not been detected.
The point where the rail in question had broken was where a crack had formed between two different sized rails that had been joined in an aluminothermic junction weld. Further examination of the track found that the existing crack was not easily detectable through continuous ultrasonic testing or routine maintenance.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which managed the section of track engaged an independent metallurgist to study the rail after the derailment. The metallurgist found there was a lack of weld fusion on the foot of the rail between the two rail types and was undetected at the time of welding. This, along with the difficulty detecting the crack afterwards, reinforced the need for thorough inspection said OTSI COO and deputy chief investigator Kevin Kitchen.
“It is critical that areas of the rail that cannot be easily inspected during scheduled continuous ultrasonic testing are tested thoroughly at the time of welding to ensure that the weld is free from defects,” said Kitchen.
The investigation also found that other factors increased the risk in relation to the occurrence. OTSI and ATSB noted the network rules were one of these factors.
“Network rules that permit degraded operations must be assessed to ensure that the application of these rules do not increase risk to an unacceptable level,” said Kitchen.
“Personnel responsible for implementing these rules should have sufficient guidance to assess when it is safe to continue operating trains, or under what conditions operations can continue.”
The investigation also found that the sleepers underneath the track were decayed and the ballast appeared fouled with mud and dirt.
Extra freight services have been running across the Sydney network to service the increased demand for essential supplies and to ensure Australia’s exports get to ports.
Chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia, Dean Dalla Valle, highlighted that by working with the Transport for NSW Freight Access and Performance Unit and the Rail Operations Centre (ROC) extra capacity on Sydney’s normally busy network has been opened up.
“Freeing up extra paths on Sydney’s rail network, notably for goods trains, is a smart, quick and cost-efficient way to help support and amplify critical freight activity in the economy.
“It means freight trains can access more paths during peak morning and afternoon periods, which normally would not be available, to better service the transport supply chain.”
Under normal conditions, freight trains cannot run on the Sydney network between 6am to 10am and 3pm to 7pm due to the priority being given to commuter services, and access is limited on the shoulder of these peaks. In all, there is only 10 hours of access for freight trains to vital ports such as Botany, Kembla, and Newcastle.
Access to Port Botany, in particular, is restricted, being located just south of the Sydney CBD and accessible via some of the most heavily congested lines in the network. However, Dalla Valle noted, the Sydney network is a critical hub for freight in NSW.
“For example, each day thousands of import and export shipping containers arriving or leaving Port Botany pass through key rail depots and terminals at Chullora, Enfield, Minto, Cooks River and Moorebank,” he said.
“Similarly, goods trains running between Sydney and Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth have to be threaded through the Flemington rail junction – rail’s equivalent of passing through the eye of a national logistics needle.
“Likewise, grain originating from central west NSW to be converted into food and industrial ingredients like flour, starch, and ethanol at Manildra Group’s Nowra facility is hauled via the Flemington junction to eventually join the South Coast-Illawarra railway line,” said Dalla Valle.
With demand for household goods increasing and key supplies such as ethanol for handsantiser more essential than ever, having easy access to the Sydney network is critical for the national supply chain to function smoothly.
“Every grocery item delivered to a supermarket, every batch of medical supplies made available to hospitals, every tonne of grain delivered to a flour mill or ethanol plant, every tonne of coking coal delivered to a steel mill, or every tonne of thermal coal delivered to a power station to provide baseload electricity to Australian cities and towns – all this counts,” said Dalla Valle.
As the economy starts to get going again, having smooth and efficient supply chains will only become more critical, said Dalla Valle.
“Economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic will benefit greatly from essential rail freight services having greater access in the future to the Sydney Trains’ network.
“Our proud sector helps underpin a vital and finely tuned component of our economy. If we don’t plug away 24/7, 365 days of the year, rain, hail or shine then the arteries of our economic trade will quickly clog up,” he said.
To limit the possibility of any spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) strict protocols have been put in place at depots, terminals, and maintenance facilities.
The Freight on Rail Group of Australia is made of up major rail freight businesses including Pacific National, Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), One Rail Australia, Aurizon, Qube Holdings, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia and Southern Shorthaul Railroad (SSR).
Australia’s largest rail freight operators and infrastructure managers have welcomed statements by Australian governments ensuring that rail freight services continue despite state border closures and shutdowns of non-essential services.
Chair of the the Freight on Rail Group, Dean Dalla Valle highlighted that rail freight services are critical for the supply of domestic and imported goods such as food, medical supplies, cleaning products, and fuel.
“Paddock to port, pit to port, or manufacturing plant to port – essential rail freight services stretch across state borders, servicing finely-tuned supply chains across our continent,” he said.
In collaboration with truck drivers working the ‘last mile’ of supply chains, rail services have hauled significant amounts of items in urgent need during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“A single-stacked 1,800-metre interstate goods train can haul 260 shipping containers, thereby helping to free-up hundreds of truck drivers each week to focus on delivering goods and products the remaining ‘last mile’ from warehouses to stores where consumers need shelves restocked,” said Dalla Valle.
“To put this in perspective, a single shipping container can hold approximately 25,000 toilet paper rolls, 55,000 food cans or 1,500 cases of beer.”
The move follows a meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council, made up of state, territory and federal infrastructure and transport ministers, on Wednesday, March 25, which affirmed that freight movements are an essential service, and will continue to operate despite restrictions on activity around the country.
“We, Australia’s Transport and Infrastructure Ministers, wanted to reassure Australians that supporting freight movements and supply of goods to individuals, businesses and service providers is a high priority for all governments,” wrote the ministers in a joint communique.
While Queensland was the latest state to close its borders, following Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Tasmania, the ministers confirmed that these would not inhibit the efficient movement of freight across Australia.
“All jurisdictions where restrictions are in place have provided exemptions to these measures to ensure Australia’s supply chains are maintained,” wrote the ministers.
“We want to thank all those Australians involved in the freight industry who are serving Australia so diligently despite the challenges we face.”
To ensure that rail freight operators do not become susceptible to COVID-19, additional measures have been put in place, said Dalla Valle.
“In recent weeks, rail freight operators have implemented strict hygiene protocols at depots, terminals and maintenance facilities, including social distancing, to protect the health of essential staff,” he said.
“Rail freight has the added benefit of operating within secure railway corridors and facilities prohibited to members of the general public.”
The Freight on Rail Group is made up of nine rail freight businesses, Pacific National, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), Aurizon, Qube, One Rail Australia, SCT Logistics, Arc Infrastructure, WatCo Australia, and Southern Shorthaul Railroad.