Rail safety investigations & reports

Derailment of freight train 3MP9 near Malbooma SA on 10 April 2014

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed


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What happened

At about 0011 on 10 April 2014, SCT Logistics train 3MP9 derailed after travelling over track that had been undercut by floodwaters near a culvert at the 535.150 km mark between Tarcoola and Malbooma, South Australia. The floodwaters caused scouring of the track formation, compromising its capacity to support the train.

About 300 metres behind the lead locomotive, the first of 18 wagons derailed including eight that rolled onto their sides.

There were no injuries to the train crew however there was significant damage to the track, rolling stock and freight goods.

What the ATSB found

The ATSB determined that runoff from the heavy rain that had fallen in the catchment area adjacent to Malbooma on 9 April 2014 caused a flash flood event. The volume of floodwater exceeded the capacity of a double drainage culvert designed for a 1:50 year average flood recurrence interval. This resulted in water overtopping the track formation with ballast and sub-grade scouring on the south side of the track.

The magnitude of the scouring meant that the track could not support the weight of train 3MP9 as it passed over the affected areas. The resulting deformation in the alignment of the track initiated the derailment.

From a risk control perspective, the ATSB found that the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s (ARTC) processes were ineffective in developing and implementing changes to operational procedures from the findings of previous incident investigations. The ARTC did not have a comprehensive system in place to identify and actively manage the risks to their network from severe weather events, and had not established a register for recording ‘special locations’ for the management of track infrastructure prone to flooding.

There were no anomalies found with the operation of the train or the condition of rolling stock before the derailment.

What's been done as a result

The ARTC has implemented Operational Procedure OPP-01-05 ‘Monitoring and Responding to Extreme Weather Events in the East-West Corridor’ and has purchased and installed remote weather monitoring and recording stations at Barton, Cook, Rawlinna and Zanthus. The weather station data will be linked to the Early Warning Network to provide automated alerts. Four water flow monitors have been installed at culverts identified through a hydrology study of the Trans Australia Railway. Field evaluation of this equipment is being undertaken.

Upgrades of the ARTC’s electronic asset management system are underway to optimise inspection and maintenance activities, including recording of ‘special locations’ affected by severe weather events.

Safety message

To ensure that the safety of rail operations is not compromised during severe weather events, it is essential that rail transport operators have robust and responsive systems in place to actively monitor and manage the foreseeable risks.

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Download preliminary report
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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.

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Safety Issues

Go to RO-2014-006-SI-01 - Go to RO-2014-006-SI-02 - Go to RO-2014-006-SI-03 -

Response to flood event investigations

The ARTC’s processes for developing and implementing changes to operational procedures as a result of incident investigation findings were ineffective at mitigating the risk of future similar incidents.

Safety issue details
Issue number: RO-2014-006-SI-01
Who it affects: Rail network managers and train operators
Status: Adequately addressed

Management of weather warnings

The ARTC did not have a comprehensive system in place to identify and actively manage risks associated with severe weather events that were likely to affect the safety of their rail network.

Safety issue details
Issue number: RO-2014-006-SI-02
Who it affects: Rail network managers and train operators
Status: Adequately addressed

Infrastructure flood management

A register for recording ‘special locations’ in accordance with the ARTC Engineering (Track & Civil) Code of Practice - Section 10 – Flooding, had not been established to manage track infrastructure prone to flood damage.

Safety issue details
Issue number: RO-2014-006-SI-03
Who it affects: Rail network managers and train operators
Status: Adequately addressed
General details
Date: 10 April 2014   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0006 CST   Investigation level: Systemic - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): near Malbooma    
State: South Australia    
Release date: 25 March 2015   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Train details

Train details
Line operator Australian Rail Track Corporation  
Train operator Specialized Container Transport  
Train registration 3MP9  
Type of operation Mixed Freight  
Sector Freight  
Damage to train Substantial  
Departure point Melbourne, Vic.  
Destination Perth, WA  
Last update 03 April 2020