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TasRail – Derailments and Collisions

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Tags: TasRail

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, as the TasRail annual report notes, this is the first financial year without any mainline derailments. Congratulations. That is fantastic. Is it expected that this will be the norm going forward, or was this year a particularly fortunate one? What made the difference?

Mr FERGUSON - I will invite the CEO and/or the Chair to jump in because it is an important question. I remind the committee that the Chair is on standby as well. It is quite a historic outcome.

We have had rail in Tasmania for 150 years. It has been 150 years of highs and many lows. Those interests that weren't successful often involved lines that suffered derailment. It is a great outcome. We were very excited about it when that first year and that 700-plus day record was achieved, noting that there was a minor derailment two months ago on the main line which resulted after some movement of earth after 60 millimetres of rain. So, we are never complacent about these things but we have to grab the wins and celebrate them. In the history of a business and an industry over 150 years, that for many of those years had more lows than highs. It is a good outcome.

We directly attribute the result on the year of no derailment to the investment. I don't have it in front of me but the annual report contains data that demonstrates the continual decline on trend of derailments over the last decade. We attribute it to the investments to upgrade the business but Chair and CEO, I will ask you to provide your expertise further.

Mr CANTWELL - Thanks, minister. It is worth noting that unlike most of the interstate railroads, the Tasmanian network is still essentially a technology that belongs to the century before last. So, to deliver up the derailment performance that we have seen over the period where the IRP investments been able to make this up, are doubly impressive outcome. It is a combination of the very targeted approach to asset maintenance and identifying where best to spend funds that are available. It is also a testament to the focus and the commitment of the people within the organisation.

Unfortunately, derailments will always be something that is front and centre on the radar screen of any rail organisation, but to have achieved 700 plus days without a main line derailment is a profound indicator of how well the relatively modest funds are deployed against an infrastructure that, by any measure, is at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of the level of our technology.

Ms O'CONNOR - I noted in your earlier answer, minister, when you talked about a recent, relatively minor derailment it was attributed to heavy rainfall. That raises the question about climate preparedness and what work TasRail is undertaking to assess risk to its network, its assets, what risks may have been identified and what future planning and investment is on the radar for making sure that our rail system can withstand climate impacts.

Mr DIETRICH - Thank you, Ms O'Connor for that question. There's a series of elements within it. At TasRail, we've invested considerably around future proofing the network from environmental impacts. The best example I can give you right now are the works on the western line between Ulverstone, Penguin and Burnie, where we've undertaken coastal erosion works and a huge amount of rock armoury, to the benefit of the little penguins as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - I saw that story, it was very good.

Mr DIETRICH - Yes, thank you. We are very conscious. This particular event that impacted the organisation, dare I say, was a force majeure, a minor derailment but it is a statistic. Two of the front wheels of the locomotive slipped off by millimetres. It's a derailment. Full credit to the driver for responding in the way he did. He was coming up a hill out of the Rhyndaston Tunnel, heading north with a full train. He was able to bring the train almost to a standstill in front of the landslip that appeared in front of him around a corner. Full credit to our train driver and the evasive action he took to be able to minimise impact. That area received over 70 mm of rain within 24 hours in the Rhyndaston area.

I inspected that area myself. There are multiple sites with, dare I say, roads, culverts and different things that led to an increased amount of water coming to that spot. Would we have picked that up in our normal track infrastructure inspections? Probably not. It's always a reminder around the ongoing need for capital funding into our infrastructure to rectify these zones.

We have a considerable number of landslip zones on the Melba line, which we have technology to monitor. We monitor where we know they are, but there are the occasional areas where embankments may let go, due to increased saturation and then a heavy weather event.

From a climate change and future-protection perspective, our current level of infrastructure spend in IIP tranche 3 is further considering how we buttress the network from the current climate conditions we experience in Tasmania.

We experience extreme weather events. We go from freezing cold in winter to extreme heat in summer in a lot of the areas we operate. One of the measures we're putting in place is increased stressing of the rail, which provides a protection to manage the various weather fluctuations to ensure we reduce the risk profile to derailment. We have ongoing coastal erosion projects happening across the north coast; that's a constant, dynamic environment we need to deal with.

We've just finished a significant program of works south of Campbell Town. In the last three or four months, you may have seen a lot of activity on the network south of Campbell Town. That was putting in a significant amount of culverts to improve the drainage across that sector. We're focused on more culvert work, improving drainage and very much moving towards more formation to be able to protect the network from climate change, and the further environmental impacts of that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Animal collisions with trains, despite some improvements from last year, appear to be trending up. Does TasRail have any strategies to deal with this, and does this largely represent livestock, or native wildlife? Do you have any information on the cause of most of those collisions?

Mr DIETRICH - The majority of those reported are livestock incidents with cattle and sheep. We've undertaken a program with the TFGA for further advertising to make farmers aware of maintaining their fencing. Animal collisions are distressing for all involved, and do have the potential to cause asset damage or derailment. I am very pleased to say that our General Manager for Freight Services has undertaken an initiative, engaging with various veterinary clinics across Tasmania to provide after hours service.

You could imagine for our train drivers, when they have an incident of any collision with livestock, that we provide them, the train control and our on call managers, with the support of veterinary services. We are finalising an agreement that they will provide 24 hour services. We are looking at between two and three veterinary clinics that will be able to cover network and provide after hours assistance in the event of livestock collisions, particularly if there's more than one involved.