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ATSB’s report on the Sydney-Melbourne railway line

Sydney Melbourne railway line

The ATSB has completed its safety review of the interstate rail line between Melbourne and Sydney, identifying underlying issues and evaluating the response of the operator.

In 2007, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) embarked on a major investment program to upgrade the rail track between Melbourne and Sydney. Since the program began, there have been a number of incidents and the condition of the line has attracted adverse comment regarding its safety, mostly in relation to rough rides and the development of mud-holes. 

On 16 August 2011, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, requested that the ATSB undertake an investigation to examine the safety of the line’s operations. 

While the treatments applied to date are likely to correct most ballast and drainage problems, the treatments are unlikely to correct the more deep-seated formation problems.

Among various issues, the ATSB investigation found that the track structure between Melbourne and Sydney had historically been particularly vulnerable to degradation in vertical alignment, resulting in the mud-holes and poor ride quality. While this was the result of a number of factors, major contributors were ballast fouling (contamination of the aggregate material laid between the formation and the rails and sleepers) and the weakness of the track formation (the earthwork foundation on which the track was laid).

In some locations, the track upgrade has increased this pre-existing vulnerability as a result of the process of installing new concrete sleepers. 

The track deterioration following the re-sleepering works has required both short-term management and the development of a longer-term major rectification program to maintain the operational effectiveness of the track. Until that rectification takes place, the safety of train operations has been maintained largely through the application of speed restrictions. These speed restrictions, together with increased maintenance activities, have resulted in extended train running times along the corridor.

While the treatments applied to date are likely to correct most ballast and drainage problems, the treatments are unlikely to correct the more deep-seated formation problems. Unless additional treatments are applied to improve the formation, it is possible that water will continue to weaken the structure in some locations. That would, in turn, require an increased regime of track maintenance (or some localised formation reconstruction) and the application of new or further speed restrictions.

The ATSB is satisfied that, taken as a whole, the necessary steps have been taken to address any issues that might otherwise compromise the safety of rail operations on the Melbourne to Sydney line where track quality is below acceptable operational standards. However, the actions taken to ensure safe operations have come at the expense of operational efficiencies through increased train running times.

Read the full investigation report, RI-2011-015

 

 
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Last update 22 August 2013