Albanese calls in ATSB over Sydney-Melbourne rail link

Probe to look at track condition, ARTC performance, working practices and safety systems after spate of incidents

By Rob McKay | August 17, 2011

Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has ordered his safety watchdog to investigate the handling of the country’s major rail freight arterial.

In what will be seen in some quarters as a major embarrassment for the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) will conduct an independent systemic investigation into operations on the rail line between Sydney and Melbourne.

The investigation follows a number of incidents on the line, which the ARTC, a government-owned company, leases and operates, the ATSB and Albanese’s office say.

A ministerial spokeswoman says the move came because the Government "takes nothing for granted" regarding rail system safety.

As part of the investigation, the ATSB will look at all relevant matters including:

  • The operational condition of the interstate rail track and measures being put in place to maintain the safety of rail operations where track quality is below acceptable operational standards
  • Actions undertaken by the ARTC to remediate the track and address the safety of operations
  • Safe working practices in relation to the track
  • A systemic review of safety systems, including signalling and the quality assurance of work undertaken on the track

ARTC CEO John Fullerton says his organisation will co-operate fully with the ATSB’s investigation.

"Given the ongoing questions around the overall condition and performance of the Sydney- Melbourne track this investigation is welcomed as a means to independently review the actions undertaken by the ARTC to remediate the track and provide safe and acceptable services to our customers," Fullerton says.

"ARTC is committed to completing the upgrading of the track between Sydney and Melbourne to deliver improvements in the efficiency, reliability and safety of the rail corridor and to build community and customer confidence in the value of the rail network.

"This investigation is important and will assist in enhancing and reinforcing that confidence."

The state of repairs and upgrades to the line has been subject to trenchant union media scrutiny and criticism recently about its method of replacing sleepers and the state of the repairs after they had been made.

In April, the ARTC backed up its denial there were problem with the way it went about upgrades, blaming heavy rainfall for mud holes opening up beneath repaired sections.

It said at the time that an independent assessment had found:

  • the side-insertion method of resleepering used by ARTC is an acceptable methodology for concrete resleepering, both within Australia and internationally
  • ARTC’s approach to construction and maintenance on the line is appropriate and compares favourably with other networks in Australia and overseas

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