Freight train crew unaware of flooded rail bridge

Train 6792’s locomotive passing over the flooded Little Banyan Creek rail bridge

A freight train unexpectedly encountered and entered floodwaters across a rail bridge near Tully, Queensland, highlighting the importance of weather monitoring stations at known flood locations being serviceable, a new ATSB report says.  

Intermodal Aurizon freight train 6792 had departed Cairns for Brisbane early morning on 7 March 2018, with a ‘condition affecting network’ (CAN) declared for wet weather and a requirement to run at ‘controlled speed’—requiring that the train be able to stop short of an obstruction within half the distance of clear line that was visible ahead—for a significant amount of the journey.

Approaching the Little Banyan Creek rail bridge, near Tully, the driver saw floodwater covering the bridge and immediately attempted to stop the train by applying the emergency brake. However, the train was unable to stop in the distance available, and it entered the water.

Neither of the train crew were injured, and after consulting with the network control officer and the crew’s supervisor, the driver moved the train forward at low speed through the floodwater and into Tully yard.

The ATSB investigation found that the Little Banyan Creek weather monitoring station’s water level sensor had been out of service for several weeks and could not provide a flood warning to network control to pass on to the crew. Further, a closed circuit television camera for monitoring water levels was also ineffective at night due to an out-of-service illuminator.

The investigation also found that the rail infrastructure operator, Queensland Rail (QR), did not have an effective means of ensuring that, during situations such as a CAN, network control personnel were aware of the relevant weather monitoring systems that were unserviceable. Control personnel were also not required to actively search for information about track conditions ahead of a train during situations when conditions had the realistic potential to have deteriorated since the last patrol or train had run over a section.

The investigation also identified issues with the application of the controlled speed restriction, and the management of workload during two-driver operations during a CAN.

“This investigation highlights the importance of having serviceable weather monitoring stations at known flooding locations on a rail network, and ensuring that if these systems are not functioning all relevant parties need to be aware of the defect,” said ATSB Director Transport Safety Dr Mike Walker.

“Further, operating under a CAN requires effective communication between all relevant parties. Train controllers need to ensure that all relevant information associated with the network conditions are passed to train crews and track maintenance personnel so that they can effectively perform their roles.”

Following the incident QR made improvements to its processes for ensuring the reliability of weather monitoring systems, as well as to its procedures for ensuring network control personnel were aware of any faults. It has also developed new procedures and training for network control personnel to proactively monitor network conditions when managing a CAN.

Read the investigation report RO-2018-007: Collision with floodwater involving freight train 6792 at Little Banyan Creek, Queensland, on 7 March 2018

Last update 30 June 2020

Final report

RO-2018-007: Collision with floodwater involving freight train 6792 at Little Banyan Creek, Queensland, on 7 March 2018