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What happened

At approximately 0542 (CST) on 27 December 2011, freight train 7AD1, owned and operated by Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd (GWA), derailed at the Edith River rail bridge near Katherine in the Northern Territory. GWA was also the owner and operator of the rail track.

The train driver was unhurt as a result of the derailment, but the co-driver suffered back injuries and there was significant damage to the bridge and rolling stock. A number of wagons including the crew van, which was unoccupied at the time, derailed into the Edith River.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined that the derailment of train 7AD1 was caused by the wash-away of the south-eastern embankment, associated sub-grade and ballast on the approach side of the Edith River rail bridge. The magnitude of the wash-away meant that the track could not support the weight of train 7AD1 as it passed over the affected track. The track collapsed under the train, initiating the derailment.

The wash-away was the result of a severe flood event caused by torrential rains that fell within the Edith River catchment area in the aftermath of cyclone 'Grant'.

What has been done as a result

As a result of the derailment at the Edith River rail bridge, on 27 December 2011, GWA has undertaken a range of actions to enhance its policies, procedures and employee training with respect to managing the risks associated with severe weather events. GWA will also enhance its systems for alerting staff to severe weather events, including flood risks.

Safety message

It is essential that rail network operators have robust systems in place to monitor and mitigate the risks of severe weather events to ensure that the safety of railway operations is not compromised.

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On 12 September 2012 Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd (GWA) provided the following update in relation to safety issues identified in the final report.

4.1.1 Policies, procedures and training

Safety issue

GWA policies, procedures and training had little if any guidance for employees quantifying the duration, consequential dangers and responses to severe weather events.

Action proposed by Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd

GWA has now developed its own Extreme Weather Monitoring and Warning procedure (RS-PRC-072) which replaces the FreightLink procedure FL-PRO-06-010E. The new procedure details a range of organisational responses aligned to specified weather trigger events and reflects learnings from the Edith River Bridge derailment. GWA has also reviewed its Cyclone Response Plan (RS-PRC-017) in conjunction with Network Users, once again with the aim of incorporating learnings from the derailment into the document.

An awareness package has been developed for delivery to all GWA train crews which details the recommended action to be taken in response to flooded track, storms, extreme wind events and line side fires. The package will be rolled out prior to the start of the Monsoon season and will also be delivered to Transport Controllers, operational staff, track inspectors and members of senior management involved in the decision-making process.

4.1.2 Monitoring of severe weather and flood events

Safety issue

The warning systems in place to alert GWA staff as to the severity of a flood event at the Edith River Rail Bridge were ineffective.

Action proposed by Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd

GWA is reviewing the risk profile of the Tarcoola-Darwin railway relative to its structures and local hydrology with the aim of focussing attention and mitigating strategies against future flood events to potential high risk locations.

At the same time, GWA has engaged a specialist weather monitoring service which will provide the organisation with advance warning of potential extreme weather events relative to the railway network. The alerts are aligned to the GWA Extreme Weather Monitoring and Warning procedure and will be promulgated to Transport Control and other operational decision-makers.

GWA is also working on a commercial agreement with NRETAS to access warnings from twenty (20) existing stream flow detectors adjacent to the railway corridor. These detectors provide live data on rising water levels in catchment areas in the Northern Territory. By adding its own warning thresholds to the existing NRETAS infrastructure, GWA will be able to receive notification about rising water levels at each of the catchment areas. This work will be completed by late September 2012.

Lastly, GWA is installing stream flow detectors at six (6) major bridges (as defined by ADrail and having a 30 metre span) north of Katherine. The system consists of a detection unit, communication modem and two aspect signals. The position of these signals has been established in consultation with train crews to achieve a sighting distance approaching 2.5 km from the bridges. The unit will detect when water levels are about to reach the ‘top of formation’ and will provide an alert to both train control and train crews. This technology has been successfully implemented in the Pilbara region recently. At an estimated cost of $1.5 million, installations at all six (6) sites will be complete by November 2012.

 
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Preliminary report released 29 February 2012

At approximately 0542 CST on 27 December 2011, freight train 7AD1 derailed at the rail bridge over the Edith River near Katherine in the Northern Territory (NT).

As a result of the derailment, the co-driver suffered minor injuries. The train driver was unhurt. There was significant damage to the bridge and rolling-stock and a number of wagons, including the crew van which was unoccupied at the time, derailed into the river.

The derailment was the result of a severe weather event, a tropical low, which formed on December 26 after tropical Cyclone 'Grant' crossed the coast. The tropical low resulted in torrential rains falling in the vicinity of Katherine causing severe flooding of the Edith River. The flooding was sufficient to cause catastrophic damage to the southern bridge embankment which initiated the derailment of train 7AD1 as it traversed the bridge.

The investigation is continuing.

The information contained in this preliminary report is derived from the initial investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that it is possible that new evidence may become available that alters the circumstances as depicted in the report.

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Derailment of freight train 7AD1 at Edith River

 
 

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Safety issues

RO-2011-019-SI-01 - RO-2011-019-SI-02 -  

Policies, procedures and training

GWA policies, procedures and training had little if any guidance for employees quantifying the duration, consequential dangers and responses to severe weather events.

Safety issue details
Issue number:RO-2011-019-SI-01
Who it affects:Rail infrastructure managers
Status:Adequately addressed


 

Monitoring of severe weather and flood events

The warning systems in place to alert GWA staff as to the severity of a flood event at the Edith River Rail Bridge were ineffective.

Safety issue details
Issue number:RO-2011-019-SI-02
Who it affects:Rail infrastructure managers
Status:Adequately addressed

 
General details
Date: 27 December 2011 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 0542 CST Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
Location   (show map):Edith River near Katherine  
State: Northern Territory  
Release date: 19 September 2012 Occurrence category: Accident 
Report status: Final Highest injury level: Minor 
 
Train details
Train operator: Genesee & Wyoming Australia 
Train registration: 7AD1 
Type of operation: Mixed freight 
Damage to train: Substantial 
Departure point:Adelaide, SA
Destination:Darwin, NT
 
 
 
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Last update 24 January 2017