Preliminary report realesed – 29 July 2014

In early April 2014, a slow moving low-pressure trough generated a broad rainband across the Northern Territory and South Australia. The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) forecast heavy rainfall and issued flood warnings for various areas of the South Australia, including locations around the Malbooma region.

At about 1742 on 9 April, Specialized Container Transport train 3MP9 departed Port Augusta. It was raining on departure and continued to rain as the journey progressed. At Kultanaby, a crew change occurred. The new driving crew travelled toward Tarcoola with rain continuing to fall.

At 2350, when train 3MP9 departed Tarcoola, there was only intermittent rain falling. As the train travelled downhill towards the base of a grade near the 532 km post, the crew observed water running swiftly in the cess drain down the south side of the track.

As the train climbed the next grade, the driver slowed the train in preparation for entering the crossing loop at Malbooma. The train crew then saw water overtopping the track ahead, so the second driver contacted the network control officer (NCO) to advise that the train had encountered a lot of water flowing down the south side and across the track and suggested that all trains be held until the track was inspected for damage.

Soon after, at about 0006 on 10 April, and shortly after the train crossed a culvert at the 535.150 km mark at speed of about 90 km/h, the crew heard a 'big bang' and felt the locomotive pitch sharply. Soon thereafter, the train’s brakes were automatically applied and the lead locomotive came to a stop near the 536.035 km mark.

The second driver alighted from the locomotive and walked back along the northern side of the train to check for damage. He found that the air line and jumper cable between the trailing locomotive and the refuelling tanker were uncoupled. He reconnected the couplings, but the train brake system did not re-establish a reading from the end of train monitoring system (ETMS).

The second driver, accompanied by another driver who had been resting in the crew van, then walked further back along the train and found another separation between wagons and a wagon that had derailed a wheel. In the distance, they could also see a further series of wagons lying on their sides to the north of the track.

At about 0014, the crew of train 3MP1 contacted the NCO to report their departure from Lyons (about 30 km west of the derailment location). The NCO asked if the crew had observed water near the track at the 535 km post when they passed that area. The driver replied ‘…water was encroaching on the ballast but it wasn’t up to the ballast to wash it away’.

At about the same time, the drivers of 3MP9 returned to the front of the train and reported to the NCO that train 3MP9 had derailed and provided details of the known damage.


The information contained in this Preliminary report is released in accordance with section 25 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 and is derived from the ongoing investigation of the occurrence. Readers are cautioned that new evidence will become available as the investigation progresses that will enhance the ATSB's understanding of the accident as outlined in this Preliminary report. As such, no analysis or findings are included in this report.