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.
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.