Passenger Rail, Safety, Standards & Regulation

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. 

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