Rail safety investigations & reports

Derailment of freight train 9281 near Charters Towers, Queensland, on 30 December 2020

Investigation number:
RO-2020-023
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final

Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 2.09MB]
 

What happened

On 30 December 2020, Aurizon fertiliser freight train 9281, was travelling from Phosphate Hill to Townsville Jetty, Queensland. A short time, after commencing the downhill grade from 119 km towards Sellheim, train 9281 derailed while traversing over a culvert.

What the ATSB found

The investigation found that a series of rainfall events on the 29 December 2020, which included a heavy rain event between 1510 and 1615, compromised the drainage system at the 118.131 km. Water over-topped the track prior to the arrival and subsequent derailment of train 9281.

The corrugated metal pipe, that was an element of the drainage system at the 118.131 km, likely had rainwater throughput restricted. This was restriction was possibly due to sinking, debris from the upstream side blocking the corrugated metal pipe, or collapse of the corrugated metal pipe due to exceeding its service life, or a combination of the three, resulting in the rainwater pooling.

Extensive rainwater pooling resulting in over-topping of the track at the location of the corrugated metal pipe very likely undermined the track infrastructure, such that it could not support the weight of the rolling stock.

What has been done as a result

Following the derailment, Queensland Rail upgraded the culvert with three 900 mm corrugated metal pipes, which significantly improved drainage in the area. Queensland Rail is also considering actions around engineering studies, resilience works, and alternative and predictive weather monitoring.

Safety message

Rail infrastructure managers should ensure their drainage systems are fit for purpose, are clear, open, and in serviceable condition. This will minimise the risk of system inundation and track over‑topping.

Download Final report
[Download  PDF: 2.09MB]
 
 
 

The investigation

Update

The ATSB’s investigation into the derailment of train 9281 near Charters Towers, Queensland on 30 December 2020 is continuing.

At about 0016, a fully loaded fertiliser train 9281 travelling between Phosphate Hill and Townsville derailed after encountering a 'washout' (a breach in a railway track caused by flooding) between Charters Towers and Sellheim on the Mount Isa rail system. The two hauling locomotives and the first two wagons of the train passed through the washout, however the following 13 wagons derailed on their sides spilling fertiliser along the rail corridor. The remaining 20 wagons remained upright on the tracks.

In the previous 24 hours (29 December), the local area was subjected to a series of rain events that delivered about 84 mm. The water from the catchment area, funnelled towards a rail culvert that had limited capacity to control the inflow, consequently the formation supporting the railway tracks was washed away leaving the sleepers and rails exposed. The washout went undetected until the incident on the 30 December.

The driver stated that they noticed debris across the track as the train approached, but could not stop the train. As the weight of the lead locomotive travelled through the washout it lurched and dipped. After stopping the train and assessing the damage, the driver reported their findings to the network control officer at Townsville control centre.

As part of the investigation, the ATSB has:

• interviewed the train crew and track personnel
• analysed event recorder data
• reviewed track maintenance records
• assessed weather monitoring system information and requirements
• reviewed relevant recorded communication and other areas of interest.

The investigation is continuing, with a final report released at the conclusion of the investigation. However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties, so that appropriate safety action can be taken.

Summary

The ATSB is investigating the derailment of train (9281) near Charters Towers, Queensland on 30 December 2020.

At about 0016, a fully loaded fertiliser train (9281) travelling between Phosphate Hill and Townsville derailed after encountering a 'washout' (a breach in a railway track caused by flooding) between Charters Towers and Sellheim on the Mount Isa rail system. The two hauling locomotives and the first two wagons of the train passed through the washout, however the following 13 wagons derailed on their sides spilling fertiliser along the rail corridor. The remaining 20 wagons remained upright on the tracks.

On the previous day (29 December) at about 1615, the local area was subjected to rain that delivered about 84 mm over a 45 minute period. The water runoff funnelled towards a rail culvert that had limited capacity to control the overflow, consequently the ballast supporting the railway tracks was washed away leaving the sleepers and rails exposed. The washout went undetected until the incident about eight hours later.

The driver stated that they noticed debris across the track as the train approached, but could not stop the train. As the weight of the lead locomotive travelled through the washout it lurched and dipped. After stopping the train and assessing the damage, the driver reported their findings to the network control officer at Townsville control centre.

As part of the investigation, the ATSB will:

  • interview the train crew
  • analyse event recorder data
  • review track maintenance records
  • assess weather monitoring system information and requirements
  • review relevant recorded communication and other areas of interest.

The investigation is continuing, with a final report released at the conclusion of the investigation. However, should a critical safety issue be identified during the course of the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties, so that appropriate safety action can be taken.

General details
Date: 30 December 2020   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 0016 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 9 km east of Charters Towers   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Queensland    
Release date: 09 August 2022   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Train details

Train details
Line operator Queensland Rail  
Train operator Aurizon  
Train registration 9281  
Type of operation Fertiliser  
Sector Freight  
Damage to train Substantial  
Departure point Hughenden, Queensland  
Destination Townsville Jetty, Queensland  
Last update 10 August 2022