ATSB releases preliminary report into Wallan train derailment

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released the preliminary report into the Wallan train derailment.

Although the report does not contain findings, the report does note that signals at Wallan were reversed, causing the XPT train to enter a passing loop at a speed of more than 100km/h when the speed limit for entering the loop was 15km/h, and exiting the loop was 35km/h.

“Earlier that afternoon, the points at either end of the Wallan loop had been changed from their ‘Normal’ position to their ‘Reverse’ position, which meant that rail traffic, in both directions, would be diverted from the Main Line into the loop track,” said ATSB chief commissioner, Greg Hood.

“A Train Notice reflected this change and also specified a 15 km/h speed limit for entry into the loop.”

Prior to the derailment, the XPT service had travelled through a section from Kilmore East that was being managed using an alternative safeworking system. During this section, an accompanying qualified worker (AQW) boarded the lead power car and joined the driver at the head of the train. Before proceeding, the driver and the network control officer communicated via radio about the train authority for the section to Donnybrook.

After passing Kilmore East, the train sped up to 130km/h, the line speed for this section. Then, the train travelled to Wallan and was diverted onto the Wallan Loop, the points for which had earlier been changed from Normal to Reverse.

The emergency brake was applied a short distance before the points, which slowed the train a small amount, however the train entered the turnout travelling at above 100km/h, leading the train to derail.

The alternative safeworking system was implemented on the section of track from Kilmore East to Donnybrook due to damage to the signalling infrastructure, caused by a fire on February 3, 2020.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing, and are being led by Victoria’s Chief Investigator, Transport Safety (CTIS), along with the New South Wales Office of Transport Safety Investigations (OTSI). The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator is also continuing to investigate.

CEO of the ARTC, John Fullerton, said that the ARTC would learn from the incident.

“Accidents of this nature are complex and can hardly ever be attributed to just one cause, and this investigation is one important way of ensuring lessons are learned, and systems and processes are put in place to avoid something similar from happening again.”

The derailment killed the driver, John Kennedy, and the AQW, Sam Meintanis.

“ARTC joins with all in the rail industry in again extending our sincere condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of John and Sam,” said Fullerton.

“The main focus of all in the rail industry – whether it is rail network operators like ARTC, the passenger and freight rail customers who use it, or the many rail contractors – is to operate safely.”

A Transport for NSW spokesperson noted the report.

“We continue to engage with the investigators on what is a complex set of circumstances that led to the loss of a NSW TrainLink employee and a contracted ARTC staff member,” said the spokesperson.

“Our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives in this accident and we await the final report by the ATSB due in 2021.”

Hood noted that the full investigation could take over 18 months to complete.

“However, should any safety critical information be discovered at any time during the investigation, we will immediately notify operators and regulators, and make that publicly known.”

Further investigation by the ATSB will inquire into the derailment sequence, track condition, rollingstock condition, crew and passenger survivability, train operation, and management of train operations. So far, the investigation has not found a fault with the rollingstock or the track itself that directly contributed to the derailment.

Theft of copper wire during North East Rail Line repairs around Wallan

Repairs to the North East Rail Line around Wallan were completed on Friday 28 February, with the first Melbourne-Brisbane freight service passing through at 2.50am Friday morning.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will be implementing an interim 80 km/h speed limit on the line between Melbourne and Albury for all passenger and freight services. 

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) has written to the corporation to request an additional independent review focused on track condition, which the ARTC said in a statement “we understand and support”.

ARTC senior managers will ride in the cabs of freight and passenger trains between Albury and Melbourne through this week in order to assess the ride condition from the locomotive cab and to engage with train drivers. 

“While this is something our management does regularly, it is even more important at this time,” Fullerton said.

Fullerton is calling on any members of the community who have knowledge of, or saw suspicious behaviour between Wallan and Donnybrook before 1am on Saturday 29th February to contact Crime Stoppers.

More than 2.4km of copper signalling wire was stolen by thieves between Wallan and Donnybrook in the early hours of Saturday morning, which resulted in 60-90-minute delays to all rail services.

Fullerton said it is disheartening that thieves would seek to take advantage of such a situation.

Between July 2017 to July 2019 there were 231 incidents of copper line wire theft along the ARTC rail corridor between Craigieburn in Victoria and Sydney.

This has resulted in hard costs of around $600,000 in rectification, but further cost and impacts via significant delays to train services, call out time for staff responding, additional driver and staffing hours, late freight deliveries, and costs to passenger customer time.

From these incidents, ARTC reported that 77 per cent resulted in train delays to the network.

ARTC stated that the focused area of theft in Victoria is between Craigieburn in Melbourne’s north to Chiltern, south of the VIC/NSW border.

52 per cent of the incidents occurred within a roughly 40km stretch of track north of Melbourne according to the ARTC.

Major work continues part of the $235m North East Rail Line upgrade, including track quality improvements such as resurfacing and new ballast, and putting overhead wires underground to decrease the risk of line wire theft.

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.

“In addition, a 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, achieving an average of around 5km of track tamping per day,” an ARTC spokesperson said.

In addition to conducting repairs, ARTC have been assisting investigations into the XPT Wallan derailment that were launched by the Victorian Coroner, ATSB and the ONRSR.

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. 

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.