A major accident on a Gippsland V/Line service was avoided by “sheer luck” on Sunday night, when a train ran over a sunken section of track west of Morwell while travelling at high speed.
That was the assessment of the Public Transport Users Association, who said the incident was a clear result of “poor maintenance” on the embattled train line.
“When a train hits a wash away like that at high speeds, it is a very worrying thing; it’s a disaster waiting to happen, which was avoided by more luck than good management,” PTUA regional spokesperson Paul Wescott said.
The Gippsland V/Line track east of Moe was isolated Sunday evening after a driver and passengers noticed a “bump” in the track near Morwell wetlands.
According to a V/Line spokesperson, it was believed six culverts underneath the track, providing wetland drainage, had overflowed due to heavy rain, causing the track’s ballast and foundation to sink, creating a 20 centimetre gap between the track and foundations.
Rail commuters travelling in both directions east of Moe were required to transfer to road coaches as V/Line worked to repair the track embankment.
While services were running again by 7pm Monday evening, V/Line rail workers, seen by The Express on Tuesday morning, were watching the repair site closely as the first eastern bound train crossed the section at a crawling pace.
However by yesterday afternoon, V/Line announced it was re-closing the section of track east of Moe for at least four weeks to implement a long term solution at the wetlands repair site.
Mr Wescott said the decision to re-close the track so soon after its re-opening indicated V/Line had not been thorough enough in its assessment of the site’s stability.
V/Line chief executive Rob Barnett said after further inspections of the track yesterday it was decided to begin work immediately as railway crews were available following the completion of a major project on another line.
The incident comes seven weeks after a sinkhole opened up a section of track near Darnum, shutting down one of two tracks on the line until the hole was filled.
Gippsland train services are required to slow to a crawl when passing the Darnum site until engineers develop and implement long term repair solutions.
State Transport Minister Terry Mulder told ABC radio yesterday the Morwell incident posed no danger to the community, and he was “confident” enough money was being spent on infrastructure maintenance.
“The difficulty you have during the winter months is carrying out major sections of maintenance on the rail network when the weather conditions and the weather patterns and the ground conditions don’t suit heavy equipment being used,” Mr Mulder said
However Mr Wescott said the wet climate of Gippsland, which also suffers from the significant landslips among road infrastructure, meant the region required a on going step-up in maintenance.
“Given that it is a high rainfall place like Gippsland, the infrastructure should be built to cope with it; I think it does indicate a lack of maintenance going back many years .”