By Evelyn Leckie
AN investigation is underway to determine the cause of a train derailment near Wallan on Thursday night.
The XPT service, run by NSW TrainLink, was travelling from Sydney to Mellbourne when it derailed on tracks managed by the Australian Rail Track Corporation.
The 59-year-old driver, John Kennedy, and a 49-year-old train pilot from Castlemaine died in the crash.
The crash, which occurred about 7.45pm about 1.5km north of Wallan East train station, affected 153 passengers on board, with 11 taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack attended the scene on Friday morning, saying the event had affected the nation.
“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the families of those who lost their lives,” Mr McCormack said.
Mr McCormack said he wasn’t aware of complaints XPT train drivers had made on the safety of the track near Wallan, but reinstated that no authority in Australia would let a train travel on an unsafe track.
“Investigations start now and nothing will be left unturned,” Mr McCormack said.
The ARTC track runs alongside Victorian tracks, and details have emerged that Victorian agencies were aware of the problematic tracks near Wallan.
V/Line had made several announcements on the day leading up to the derailment, warning passengers of delays due to ‘ongoing rail equipment faults at Wallan’.
V/Line chief executive James Pinder said the track was a “particularly complicated part of infrastructure”.
Mr Pinder said he was unaware of comments by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union that V/Line drivers were refusing to drive on the track.
Union secretary Luba Grigorovitch released a statement saying the derailment occurred over a section of track which was awaiting maintenance.
“Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week,” Ms Grigorovitch said.
Earlier this month a fire destroyed a signalling hut near Wallan, which meant no signals between Donnybrook and Kilmore were working.
Signals tell drivers which way switches in the tracks would be set, where one track diverges into two.
Mr McCormack said an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will look into whether the signalling hut incident was related to the derailment.
Mr Pinder confirmed there were separate signalling systems for Victorian and ARTC tracks.
“There are separate signalling systems. That’s not to say the signalling system or the track was the cause of this incident – that is still to be established,” Mr Pinder said.
Victorian Public Transport Minister Melissa Horne said she had written to the chief executive of the ARTC to encourage works to continue upgrading the line after a train derailed near Barnawartha in late January.
The ABC reported the deceased driver of the XPT train had written to a friend detailing a list of recent issues on the North East line.
The ABC also reported the direction of rail tracks near the site had changed the day of the derailment, meaning the train was diverted around a track loop at Wallan where the signalling systems weren’t working.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will release a preliminary report within 30 days.
All V/Line Seymour, Shepparton and Albury train services will be replaced by road coaches until further notice.