Wallan train derailment probe queries what driver knew

Safety investigators are probing whether the driver of a train that derailed in Wallan last year knew there was a track diversion in place at the site of the accident, with an interim report into the horrific crash released on Thursday.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau have published their latest findings into the derailment of a Sydney to Melbourne train in February 2020, which claimed the lives of the driver and another worker in the front cabin. A dozen people were also injured in the crash, with the front of the train rolling on to its left side and all carriages except one coming off the tracks.

In their latest update, the ATSB have stopped short of conclusively ruling on what led to the derailment and a final report will be published in the first half of 2020. But investigators have been probing the minutes leading up to the train coming off the rails and have published new information about what staff were doing along the railway line.

At the centre of the investigation is the fact that the Melbourne-bound train was travelling up to 130km/h at a time when it should have been travelling at 15km/h.

Maintenance was underway near Wallan station and services were being moved on to a second set of tracks, known as the Wallan Loop, through a set of “points” that require trains to travel much slower than their typical speed.

The driver of the train hit the brakes about 150m away from these points, bringing its speed down as low as 114km/h but still well above the 15km/h guideline. It then derailed as it hit the track diversion at high speed.

A second railway worker had boarded the train at Kilmore East to assist in navigation through the area while electronic signals were down and was in the cabin when the train crashed. Both the driver and the second worker died in the derailment.

In new evidence released by the ATSB, authorities have confirmed that the railway’s network controller told a signaller who was starting their shift that night about the track changes in place and that they read these instructions back to each other in full over the radio.

Later in the evening, the network controller also spoke to the driver of the Sydney to Melbourne train while he was waiting for permission to move on from Kilmore East. The driver confirmed he had received the latest written instructions for that section but investigators have found that neither the controller nor the driver read the instructions out loud to confirm their details.

There was no mention of the 15km/h maximum speed, with the driver making no reference to jumping over to the second set of tracks at Wallan. At one point the controller mentioned “points all set for the loop” over the radio.

ATSB Chief Commissioner said the bureau had worked with rail operators to improve safety and communications rules while they awaited a final decision on what caused the derailment.

“It is important not to draw conclusions from the factual information detailed in this report as there remains a significant body of further analysis work prior to concluding this investigation. Instead, the interim report serves to detail the investigation’s progress to date and to update stakeholders and the travelling public as to our areas of on-going investigation,” he said.

“Findings, safety factors and contributing factors will be detailed in the final report, which is anticipated to be completed in the first quarter of 2022.”

The Australian Rail Track Corporation is altering its code of practice for managing the flow of trains and managing risk, with NSW Trains to improve its process for handing out critical safety information. Chis Mckeown, the bureau’s chief investigator of transport safety, said these issues would be further examined as part of the probe, along with the condition of the trains and track in the area.

The railway corridor between Melbourne and Albury, which is also used by V/Line is notorious for being in poor condition for long stretches, with major upgrades underway as part of the federal government’s Inland Rail project.

“The investigation team will also finalise their analysis of the derailment sequence and their assessments of the condition of the rolling stock and track conditions,” Mr McKeown said.

“They will also review passenger services crew training and preparedness for a derailment, and passenger safety information.”

Source: Herald Sun

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