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.