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Rail safety report on South Island Coal Route

For immediate release Coal route report one of two
23 June 2004

Rail safety report on South Island Coal Route released

The Land Transport Safety Authority has released the findings of an independent report on the Midland Railway line between the West Coast and Lyttelton, commonly know as the coal route.

The report details the findings of a review commissioned by the LTSA from Kellogg Brown & Root Pty Ltd (KBR) into the safety of the management, operation and infrastructure of the coal route in catering for current operations as well as for projected increases in traffic on the route.

The overall conclusion of the report is that while the coal route is currently fit for the tonnage it is carrying, a combination of factors make it unlikely that it will remain fit for purpose beyond the immediate future.

The report identifies the need for a significant amount of maintenance and renewal work in order to keep the line operating safely at current levels. If the coal tonnage increases, there will need to be a corresponding increase in investment in the line.

KBR's review included detailed inspections of infrastructure and rolling stock, risk assessments and meetings with LTSA, Tranz Rail (now Toll NZ), the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, Solid Energy and others.

LTSA Rail Safety Manager Glen Summers said the report would serve as a valuable tool for all interested parties in ensuring the continued safe operation of the coal route.

"We will be working closely with everyone involved in operations on the coal route to ensure that the recommendations in this report are properly considered and that appropriate action is taken. Our top priority is the safe operation of trains and the safety of rail workers and passengers. We will do everything in our power to ensure that the rail network is safe," Mr Summers said.
To view the full text of the KBR report on-line, go to:

Coal Route Review - Questions and Answers

1) What constitutes the "coal route"?

The coal route is defined as:
The Main South Line (Lyttelton to Rolleston)
The Midland Line (Rolleston to Greymouth)
The Rapahoe Branch (Greymouth to Rapahoe)
The Stillwater – Westport Line (Stillwater to Ngakawau)

2) Why did LTSA order the review of the coal route?

Through a series of reviews and site inspections conducted during 2002 and the early part of 2003 focussing mainly in the management of continuous welded rail, the LTSA believed there was an opportunity to improve the management of, and reduce significant risks to, the overall safe operation of the coal route.

3) When did the review begin and end, and who conducted it?

The Land Transport Safety Authority (LTSA) commissioned Kellogg Brown & Root Pty Ltd (KBR) of Australia to undertake the review to assess the safety of the management, operation and infrastructure of the South Island Rail Coal Route. The review began in September 2003 and carried through to December 2003. After a period of consultation with interested parties, the final report was presented to LTSA in June 2004.

4) What exactly did the review entail - i.e. what level of inspection?

KBR’s review was based on examination of relevant documents and codes; comprehensive inspections of rolling stock, track, bridges, tunnels and yards, with particular attention to the 8.6 km Otira Tunnel; detailed risk assessment, including a two day workshop with follow-up teleconferences; and extensive consultation with stakeholders.

5) What are the report's main conclusions?

A significant number of recommendations for safety improvements arise from the report.

In general, the coal route is currently fit for purpose to carry the present freight volume, but investment is needed to maintain the line even at this level of operation. If the capacity of this line is to be increased there will need to be a corresponding increase in expenditure.

Risk assessment is an ongoing process. The work in this area begun by the review team needs to be completed with input from all organisations involved to ensure existing risks are adequately managed.

Management of the rail infrastructure needs to be carefully managed and monitored, with a particular emphasis on timber bridges for which a significantly reduced inspection cycle was recommended (down from 8 yearly to 3 yearly inspections).

6) Is the coal route safe now?

The coal route is currently fit for the tonnage it is carrying. However, the increase in axle load and overall tonnage over recent years, the present maintenance philosophy, and a lack of technical resources and finance make it unlikely that it can remain fit for purpose beyond the immediate future (say, two years). There is a backlog of maintenance and renewal work and there is a proposal to double the tonnage of coal which is hauled on the route.

Even at the present freight level, significant expenditure is required in the short to medium term to keep the line operating safely. If the coal tonnage increases, there will need to be a corresponding increase in expenditure.

The coal route is not in a ‘steady-state’ maintenance condition. The philosophy of ‘replace each asset item at the end of life’ places a heavy responsibility on the inspection system to accurately identify the point at which each item has reached the end of its life. Failure to replace a component can lead to a hazardous situation.

7) What will the LTSA do as a result of those conclusions?

Stakeholders involved in the review are being asked for their formal response to the recommendations, and the LTSA will work with all parties to ensure the recommendations are considered and safety improvements made, consistent with safety at reasonable cost.

8) How much coal is carried on the route now?

The coal route currently carries approximately two million tons per annum of coal. In addition a small volume of general freight is also carried on the line and there is a daily return passenger service.

9) By how much is this expected to increase?

Indications are that various parties would like to see the capacity of the line increased eventually to four million tons of coal per annum. However the safety of the line is paramount and any increase would have to maintain safety standards.

10) How much will it cost to fix the line or bring it up to standard?

The report focuses on the safety outcomes arising from the review. While the report has identified that increased expenditure will be necessary it has not been quantified as this was outside the scope of the review. LTSA itself does not set work programs for maintenance and capital renewal. This is determined by rail operators based on economic imperatives and the requirement to maintain the complete network in a safe working condition.

11) Who will foot the bill?

Many of the recommendations relate to the rail infrastructure. These aspects are likely to be picked up by the new Crown agency, TrackCo, which bought the track and infrastructure from Toll Holdings and is responsible for access provision and maintenance. Other recommendations will be undertaken by various operators as applicable.

12) Who will carry out the upgrading work?

This is yet to be confirmed as LTSA is still awaiting formal response to the report recommendations, and will depend on the methodology proposed to implement the improvements by the various parties to review.

13) When will this work begin and how long will it take?

Stakeholders involved in the review are being asked for their formal response to the recommendations, and the LTSA will work with all parties to ensure the recommendations are considered and safety improvements made in a timely manner.

14) When will TrackCo come onto the scene?

This is subject to negotiations between Toll Holdings and the Crown.

15) What will TrackCo's role be?

Government has purchased the track and infrastructure from Toll Holdings and TrackCo will be responsible for access provision and maintenance of the national rail network. It will control the access and operation of trains on its network, and is also responsible for maintaining and improving the railway track and associated infrastructure. The recommendations in the report relating to the rail infrastructure are likely to be picked up by TrackCo.


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