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Australia
Rail crash inquiry likely to focus on communcations between trains and signal staff

  Monday, December 6, 1999
Communications between the drivers of the trains involved in Thursday's fatal rail accident at Glenbrook
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and signalling staff are likely to feature prominently in the judicial inquiry into the incident.

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, the driver of the Indian Pacific had spent up to 10 minutes unsuccesfully trying to make contact with the signal box at Penrith to inform them of a failed signal.

Investigators have taken statements from the two drivers of the Indian Pacific, the dirver of the the Lithgow-Sydney train and signalling staff. They also have tape recordings of converstions between the drivers and the signal box. According to the newspaper report, the following sequence of events emerges:

08:10 The driver of the Indian Pacific used the lineside telephone to inform Penrith that signal No 41.6, near Glenbrook station was showing red. As there was not another train between there and the next signal it was believed that the signal had failed.

He was told to "proceed with caution" to signal No 40.8, the next signal. This instruction requires that trains be driven at no more than 25 km/h rather than the usual 60-80 km/h. This is intended to give ample time for a train to stop should it encounter another train.

08:19 The driver of the Lithgow - Sydney train used the same telephone to call the signal box. He too reported the red light at signal 41.6. Like the previous train, an instruction to "proceed with caution" was given.

Meanwhile, the Indian Pacific had reached signal 40.8 which was showing red. The driver attempted to use the telephone at the signal to report this to Penrith, but was unable to make contact. He tried to use a mobile phone, but was unable to get a signal.

08:23 The Indian Pacific was halted at the red signal. The commuter train was moving towards, relentlessly reducing the 7 minute headway planned for the two trains. As the commuter train rounded a sharp curve, its driver saw the stationary train ahead of him. He had little time to take any action that could have prevented a collision.

Seven lives were lost in the accident. All were in the front carriage of the commuter train which was "impaled" on the rear vehicle of the Indian Pacific.

The Rail Access Corporation has checked the phones at the signals and in the signal box which were found to be working correctly.

The Indian Pacific was involved in another collision earlier this year at Zanthus in Western Australia. Forty five people were injured when it collided with the rear of a freight train.

Thursday's accident is the worst rail accident in Australia since 1977 when 83 people were killed in an accident at Granville in Sydney. In this incident, another commuter train from the Blue Mountains became derailed and crashed into the support pylons of a bridge bringing it down on top of the train.
Join the discussion about the Glenbrook accident

Web sources:
Train driver's long wait, with death just behind
Sydney Morning Herald 06 Dec 1999
Telephone cleared of fault in rail smash
The Australian 06 Dec 1999
Failed signal thought responsible for fatal Blue Mountains crash
Excite News 03 Dec 1999
At least six dead in train crash
News.com 02 Dec 1999
Death toll expected to rise in Blue Mountains train crash
ABC News Online 02 Dec 1999
Six Dead, 50 Injured After Two Trains Collide in Mountains Near Sydney
Bloomburgh 02 Dec 1999
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This file last updated: Tuesday, 07-Dec-1999 20:39:23 EST
Copyright © David Fry 1999

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