The derailment occurred at the 2446.100 km point of the Tarcoola to Darwin railway line at Katherine, Northern Territory on the No. 219 points that provides access from the crossing loop to the north end of the goods loop.
The railway line between Alice Springs and Darwin, Northern Territory was owned, operated and maintained by Genesee & Wyoming Australia Pty Ltd (GWA).
The rail yard at Katherine consisted of a bi-directional main line, crossing loop and goods loop (west side of the crossing loop). There was a small siding off the crossing loop at the southern end of the yard.
No. 219 points is a right hand turnout, hand operated and comprised of 47 kg/m rail fastened to steel sleepers using resilient clips and a ballast bed with a minimum depth of 150 mm.
The Ghan passenger train was operated by Great Southern Rail Limited (GSR) between Darwin and Adelaide, South Australia twice a week. GSR contracted the responsibility for train operations to Pacific National (PN), who provided locomotives and drivers under a ‘hook and pull’ agreement. At the time of the derailment, The Ghan consisted of two locomotives (NR 106 leading and NR109 dead attached), 29 coaches (including power vans) and one motorail wagon. There were 194 passengers, 31 hospitality staff and four train drivers on board. The train was 758 m long (including locomotives) and weighed 1585 tonnes.
On Wednesday 30 January 2013 at 1014 Central Standard Time, The Ghan, train 4DA8 departed Berrimah Passenger Terminal in Darwin.
At 1217, 4DA8 was issued a train authority to proceed to Katherine and take the crossing loop to cross train 2AD1. At 1415, 4DA8 entered the Katherine crossing loop at 29 km/h6 with 2AD1 standing on the mainline. The crew sighted and cross-called the point indicator for No. 219 points, which was correctly set (yellow circle) for 4DA8 to continue heading south on the crossing loop.
Approximately 50 m from No. 219 points, the co-driver noticed that the right hand point blade did not look quite right and alerted the driver. About 20 m from the points, the driver applied the brake to slow the train in response to the co-driver’s concern. When the co-driver confirmed that the two locomotives and first coach had traversed No. 219 points without incident, the driver released the brake. The co-driver continued to monitor the progress of the train over No. 219 points via the side, rear-view mirror and advised the driver that a passenger coach had derailed. The driver immediately reapplied the brake and 4DA8 stopped about 15 seconds later.
When 4DA8 stopped, the front portion of the train was standing on the crossing loop while the rear portion was standing on the mainline. There were no reported injuries to passengers or train crew.
The two locomotives, the first coach and the leading bogie of the second coach had passed through the points correctly following along the crossing loop. The trailing bogie of the second coach and the leading bogie of the third coach derailed into the goods loop. The trailing bogie of the third coach, the fourth and fifth coaches took the crossing loop and remained on track. The leading wheelset of the sixth coach had also commenced to track incorrectly towards the goods loop. All vehicles remained upright and coupled.