Condition of level crossing road surface contributes to coal train derailment

The derailment of a loaded coal train at a gravel level crossing west of Oakey, Queensland, shows the importance of an effective inspection and maintenance process for the approach roads and crossing surface at level crossings, a new ATSB investigation highlights.

Dunkeld Access Road private (occupation) level crossing ID 2309, 8 km west of Oakey, Queensland

On 21 July 2017, the underframe of a low-clearance heavy road vehicle very likely damaged both rails as it travelled over the private level crossing on the Western Line between Oakey and Jondaryan.

A member of the public saw the vehicle come to a sudden stop as it passed over the crossing, appearing to have “bottomed-out”. According to the witness, the driver exited the vehicle and inspected under the trailer, which was carrying a front-end loader, while it was stopped on the level crossing. The vehicle then continued on its journey.

Soon after, as the coal train approached the level crossing, the train driver noticed a ‘kink’ in both rails and attempted to stop the train.

The driver reported the lead locomotive shuddered as it passed over the crossing and he observed a number of wagons derailing as the train slowed. In all the train’s two locomotives and 18 coal wagons derailed, while there was damage to about 300 m of rail infrastructure.  

 “If rail infrastructure is damaged due to a road accident, it is vitally important that the driver responsible report the matter to the local police or the asset owner as soon as possible,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Stuart Godley.

“Rail infrastructure managers, who are responsible for the management of the rail corridor, need to ensure that approach roads and the crossing surface at level crossings are subject to regular and effective inspection and monitoring processes,” Dr Godley said.

“This is particularly relevant for level crossings with gravel-based road surfaces and inclined approach roads.”

Since the accident, track manager QR has installed a sealed asphalt surface on both sides of the level crossing. QR has also taken a series of actions to improve its inspection processes for level crossings.

Read the report RO-2017-007: Derailment of coal train 9869 Dunkeld Access Road private (occupation) level crossing ID 2309, 8 km west of Oakey, Queensland, on 21 July 2017

Last update 14 November 2019