Sydney-Melbourne XPT crashes while running late in Victoria

Two railway staff died and a about a dozen others were injured when the XPT travelling from Sydney to Melbourne derailed at Wallan in Victoria on the night of Thursday 20th February 2020.

The XPT had 153 passengers on board when it came flying off the rails 45km north of Melbourne. 7NEWS interviewed passengers near the Wallan crash site and they told how the train was running late, had some lengthy stoppages and then before the crash, the train travelled fast as it tried to catch up on time.

I caught the XPT along part of the Sydney-Melbourne train route in 2019 — lateness, stoppages and speed-surges are a common occurrence on the Sydney-Melbourne line. Regular travellers in that region speak of these issues.

A lot of the passengers on the Sydney to Melbourne XPT service are people who can manage a train service that frequently travels later than timetabled ie retirees. (But, again it’s people in regional Australia receiving a second class service from governments).

In June 2019, the XPT service I caught to Sydney arrived 55 minutes late at Wagga.

Soon after leaving Wagga Wagga passengers were told to ‘hold on’ as the train travelled at approximately 151km/h along the plains heading into Junee. XPT staff cautioned passengers that the train was travelling at “track speed.”

Track speed refers to the speed limit on the Sydney to Melbourne line, which is 160km/h for the XPT.

When our XPT reached Cootamundra the train driver had to be swapped because he became ill. This delayed the train again.

Passengers were then advised that because the train was behind time, a rail worker, whose job it was to change the points at Cootamundra, had already finished their shift for the day. So, the train driver had to get out and change the points himself by walking the length of the train, and reversing about 300 metres backwards from the platform, before then moving forward.

Despite all the stumbling blocks that were thrown up during our trip, the XPT crew on the train did an excellent job of keeping the passengers extremely well informed of what was happening. We arrived 1 hour and 20 minutes late into Sydney — not the crew’s fault — the fault of a poorly staffed railway.

My read of XPT train services is that they’re severely under-funded by governments, and consequently they poorly service the people of regional Australia.

Based on the numbers of people I saw catching the XPT, people want to travel by train to, and in between, key centres like Canberra, Wagga, Dubbo, Wauchope, Coffs Harbour and Albury. On my train, passengers were explaining how they were forced to buy First Class tickets because the Economy carriages were sold out. It’s popular!

Is the reason for not properly funding the current Sydney-Melbourne rail link because governments are waiting for federal political parties to deliver on their very fast train ideas that they keep promising?

Two messages were very clear in the media conference held on the morning after the fatal XPT crash in Wallan:
1/ Rail management and staff have struggled to articulate their issues about the Sydney-Melbourne rail line to politicians. Politicians admitted not knowing about key faults on the track where the XPT derailed, etc
2/ The accident was on a federal rail line (not a Victoria line). The two different train rail gauges (New South Wales v Victoria) have always created issues in the region. Obviously, the decision to ignore the 1848 advice of New South Wales Governor Charles Fitzroy for one standard railway gauge, is still creating issues. He recommended that Australia adopt the result of the United Kingdom’s 1845 Royal Commission by copying the UK’s ‘Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846.’ (At the time the NSW Governor ruled what is now known as ‘Victoria’).

#XPT #Wallan

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