Investigators at the crash site in 2020.

By Colin MacGillivray

The region’s leaders have expressed hope a final report into a 2020 train derailment near Wallan that killed two people and seriously injured eight others will shed light on the cause of the crash.

An interim report stemming from an investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, ATSB, was released on Thursday, detailing the circumstances leading up to and following the derailment.

The interim report does not make findings about what caused the crash. A final report is due early next year once the ATSB concludes its investigation.

The crash occurred when a Melbourne-bound passenger train from Sydney entered the Wallan railway loop at about 7.43pm on February 20 last year.

The interim report found signalling on the line had been disrupted more than two weeks prior to the derailment by a fire in a nearby signalling hut.

A subsequent notice from the Australian Rail Track Corporation, ARTC, specified the track at the Wallan loop would be set for the straight, rather than diverted into the loop.

But on the day before the derailment a further notice was issued that trains would be diverted through the loop, reducing the maximum permitted speed for that section of the track from 130kmh to 15kmh.

Investigators found the train was likely travelling at a speed of between 114kmh and 127kmh when it entered the loop, resulting in its derailment.

The driver, who had 40 years of experience in the rail industry, and an accompanying qualified worker were both killed in the crash.

Eight people were seriously injured, with a further 53 receiving minor injuries.

Federal Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell said he had been briefed on the interim report by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack’s office.

“It doesn’t tell us what caused the accident, but it talks about the circumstances leading up to and after the crash,” he said.

“It’s the first stage of going through the evidence and seeing what’s happened, and then we wait for the findings to see what caused it.

“It’s a slow process, but we’ve got to let it happen so that we get it done properly.”

State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan welcomed the interim report.

“The interim report has confirmed that the rail signalling system at Wallan – used to direct railway traffic along the line – was a contributing factor in the accident, having been damaged by fire earlier that month,” she said.

“Significant analysis is still required before the ATSB can conclude its investigation but I hope this interim report gives long-awaited answers to the families and loved ones of the two men who tragically lost their lives, and also to the 155 passengers who were on board the train that day.”

Ms Ryan commended the steps taken by ARTC and NSW Trains to improve safety since the crash.

The interim report details safety actions adopted by both departments in the past 16 months, including the development of a new risk-assessment tool for abnormal circumstances and an amendment of procedures to confirm receipt of critical safety information by NSW Trains crews.

Mr Mitchell said he would follow the progress on the report.

“You’ve got two people deceased, and their families all want to get answers. The passengers and their families will all be desperate to get answers too,” he said.

“We’re going to keep following it up, because it was probably one of the worst things that has happened in our region in recent years to have such a savage train accident.

“The quicker we find out why it happened, the quicker we can make sure that if any changes need to be made, they’re put in place so we never have to go through this again.”

People can view the interim report by visiting www.atsb.gov.au/media/5779839/ro-2020-002-interim-report.pdf.

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