A key rail line in the country’s richest coal region remains out of action after a major train derailment last week. An empty coal train operated by Aurizon came to grief last week near Muswellbrook causing damage to the track that forms part of the 1400km Hunter Valley coal network. No one was injured in the accident which involved 26 wagons.
Australian Rail Track Corp (ARTC), the operator of the network, said the line would remain closed indefinitely as recovery crews assess the damage. An ARTC spokesperson said the site is still being assessed with an update expected in a “couple of days”.
“No time frame has been put on the reopening of the line as recovery crews assess the damage and plan recovery efforts,” the spokesperson told The Australian on Monday.
The Hunter Valley rail network is a part of the world’s largest coal export supply chain and consists of a dedicated double track coal line between Port Waratah and Maitland, a shared double track line from Maitland to Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter Valley, and a shared single track with passing loops north towards Gunnedah and west towards Ulan.
The derailment occurred at Murrumbo, about 80km west of Muswellbrook, with access to the site hampered due to a grass fire in the area, which NSW Rural Fire Service is managing. “The fire is under control and crews now have access to the site,” the spokesperson said.
The derailment occurred at Murrumbo, about 80km west of Muswellbrook.
The Office of National Rail Safety Regulator and Office of Transport Investigation (NSW) will investigate the incident. Brisbane-based Aurizon confirmed that a number of a wagons on one of its coal trains derailed at Murrumbo, east of Bylong.
Aurizon said the two train crew were uninjured. While coal is the main commodity transported across the network in terms of volume of train services and tonnages, it also supports grain, general and bulk freight as well as passenger services.
The train was reportedly travelling from Peabody Energy’s Upper Hunter Valley Wilpinjong coal mine on the Muswellbrook – Ulan line and bound for Newcastle when it derailed. Some of the wagons ended up on their side causing damage to the track.
It is understood the majority of the Hunter Valley mines won’t be adversely affected given the location, which is about 80 kilometres east of Muswellbrook. However, Yan Coal’s Moolarben and Glencore’s Ulan Coal operation could be affected. Glencore declined to comment while Yancoal did not respond to a request for comment.
Nearly all export coal shipped through Newcastle is transported by rail across the network for shipping from Carrington (Port Waratah), or one of the two terminals on Kooragang Island.
ARTC managed the movement of 217 trains on average per day on the Hunter Valley network this year with 146.59 million coal tonnes transported. Of that 132 million tonnes of coal was transported to Port of Newcastle for export. In July 2022 heavy rainfall and flooding in Maitland and surrounding areas forced the temporary closure of the network.