ATSB busy on freight train derailments reports

Two reports put spotlight on dangers that can arise due to track conditions

ATSB busy on freight train derailments reports
An ATSB image of the Malbooma derailment


Above and below sleeper issues feature in two Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) freight train derailment reports released this week.

The findings highlight the impact of track infrastructure and rail maintenance vulnerabilities on containerised rail freight that arise periodically, causing damage to cargo and alarming insurers.

Today’s report concerns the derailment of a Pacific National freight train 9101 near Ouyen, Victoria,  on August 10, which saw nine wagons derail, three of which rolled, and 300m of track destroyed.

The ATSB found that the mechanical rail joint failed due to the development of fatigue cracks in both fishplates resulting in their subsequent overload fracture.

"The fatigue cracks had originated in the top surface of each fishplate and it is possible that differential sleeper support may have contributed to higher than normal cyclic tensile stress in the fishplates.

"Lower than required fishbolt torque was also identified and it is possible that movement within the joint may also have contributed to the development of the fatigue cracks, and the subsequent joint failure.

The ATSB found that the degraded and deteriorating condition of the rail joint was not detected by V/Line’s track inspection.

"In the 27 months preceding the derailment, visual inspections of this section of track had been conducted solely from rail vehicles and track walking inspections had not been conducted at intervals specified by maintenance procedures," it says.

As a result of the findings, V/Line has updated its maintenance system to generate automated work orders for track walking inspections.  

In order to improve the detection of track defects, maintenance, staff have been provided with specific inspection criteria for track infrastructure including joints and fastenings in their work orders.

Tuesday’s report examined and SCT Logistics train which was potentially more dangerous for those aboard as a fuel wagon was involved along with 73 freight wagons, some of which carried dangerous goods.

The ATSB’s preliminary report indicates undercutting due to flooding on the Australian Rail Track Corporation-managed track at Malbooma, near Tarcoola in South Australia, may have been involved, despite a barrier wall and diversion channel being in place.

It follows three other similar incidents:

  • Golden Ridge in Western Australia on January 30, 2009 (ARTC-managed track)
  • Edith River in the Northern Territory on December 27, 2011 (Genesee and Wyoming Australia-managed track)
  • Roto New South Wales on March 4, 2012 (ARTC-managed track).

In each case, the ATSB made recommendations in relation to managing the safety risk to rail operations due to extreme weather events

The investigation into this incident is continues, focusing on ARTC responses to severe weather occurrences and its "actions to assess and implement infrastructure improvements in response to previous ATSB investigations", the Bureau says.

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