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ARTC response to Southern line mud holes: too little too late

Jun 22, 2011Update

It is great to see a response from the ARTC to the serious safety concerns raised by the Rail, Tram and Bus union back in October of 2010. Unfortunately though, it is typically too little, too late from an ARTC officialdom that is very good at spinning their way out of trouble.

The ARTC condition report identifies a number of contributing factors, over two decades, which may have contributed to the formation of mud holes and unacceptable track conditions between Sydney and Melbourne. However, it seems to be everybody else’s fault but theirs. The NSW Government did this, the Victorian Government did that, it rained then, there was a drought etc. etc. The ARTC needs to admit that the technique they used to re-sleeper the line has contributed to the problem just as much as anything else.

The ARTC were granted billions of dollars by the federal government to repair sections of track under THEIR control, sections of track that are amongst the most vital to Australia’s transport network. They had at their disposal some of the most advanced technologies for track design and engineering in the world. Despite this, the technique they used to re-sleeper the track between Sydney and Melbourne is still not safe.

The repeated excuse of heavy rainfall and questionable soil quality is disingenuous at best. They have re-laid sleepers since, and the same mud holes continue to emerge. The only plausible explanation is that the side insertion technique is ineffective at best. This method of sleeper replacement results in undue sinkage of what are substantially heavier sleepers and as a consequence, we are left with unstable tracks.

The ARTC themselves admit in this report that money is a reason a track laying machine, or ‘pony’, was not used south of Sydney to re-sleeper the track – as it was on the North coast.  A higher number of trains which resulted in less track access time is their claim. If safety is a priority, then excuses are not good enough. A project such as this, which is so essential to track stability and driver and passenger safety, should not be compromised because it costs operators too much to stop trains for a little while. You simply cannot put a price on the safety of the travelling public.

The internal ARTC report crows loudly about the workshopping and consultation that was undertaken to determine the appropriate technique to lay sleepers. However, at no stage of this process did the ARTC think it wise to consult with the representatives of drivers and infrastructure workers whose every working hour is spent up and down this track. The disregard with which the ARTC has treated the safety of our members is mind-boggling.

If the ARTC are serious about rectifying these problems, then their engineers need to sit down with the RTBU, drivers and infrastructure workers and identify exactly where the problems are. We need to build a consensus around solutions for these problems. Our members work on these lines every day of the week. We know what works and what doesn’t. The good railway men and women of the RTBU care first and foremost about safety on our rail lines and we stand ready to ensure that safety.

The ARTC seem to believe that the problems were caused by others but there should be no disagreement that we all need to be part of the solution.

Bob Nanva

National Secretary RTBU