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It’s Time To Look at High Speed Rail Again

Last Thursday there was a terrible rail accident when the XPT was derailed at Wallan in Victoria and the driver John Kennedy and the pilot were killed. Eleven passengers were injured in the crash.

The investigation into the incident has now been completed but the report of the investigators has yet to be made public. It appears from eye witness accounts that the train was required to navigate through a series of switches because of track problems. A speed limit of 15 kilometres an hour had been imposed on this section of track but the train entered the space at a speed of 80 kph. There is no explanation as to why this occurred or whether the speed limit was communicated to the driver and the pilot.

Some passengers claimed there was an on board announcement saying the driver was trying to make up for lost time before the crash. Police would not confirm this.

The Rail, Tram and Bus Union said the train came off a section of track awaiting maintenance.

"Conditions were altered and V/Line drivers rightly refused to traverse this section over the past week," secretary Luba Grigorovitch said. The Victorian Nationals' deputy leader Steph Ryan raised concerns about the rail line with the state government days before the crash and after another train was derailed further up the line in January.

However Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack claimed not to be aware of complaints by drivers about the safety of the section of the track. The Commonwealth is responsible for maintenance of the track and was clearly not communicating with the drivers about the maintenance that was taking place otherwise there would have been greater awareness of the dangers.

"No authority would let passengers travel on unsafe track," Mr McCormack told reporters at the scene.

"We will ensure that proper answers are found for the bereaved families and making sure these sorts of things don't happen again."

It's expected to take days to clear the tracks, with buses set to replace all Seymour, Shepparton and Albury train services until further notice.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is to release a preliminary report in about a month, ahead of a final report in 18 months. It is hard to know how extensive the report will be but there is a chance that it will say that large sections of the track are now past their use by dates and need extensive up grading.

If this is the finding, then there is a case for a full scale review of the Sydney-Melbourne rail system including the possibility of high speed rail. This has been given a new impetus by the prospect of a zero emission target. Adoption of such a target will mean that air travel will be curtailed until a new fuel such as hydrogen is available. In the circumstances high speed rail is the obvious alternative.

The release of the interim report will represent an opportunity for Michael McCormack to seize the initiative, something he has been reluctant to do to date.

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