ALARMING evidence about chaotic safe-working procedures in New South Wales emerged during the official inquiry into the collision at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains on December 2, when the Indian Pacific was struck in the rear by an inter-urban EMU, killing seven passengers and injuring 51.

The EMU driver told the inquiry that he had been given clearance to proceed past a red signal by the signalman at the Penrith signalbox, and by the senior controller at Sydney’s Central station. Both had assumed that the Indian Pacific, which was running ahead of the EMU after also being cleared to pass the signal at danger, had left the section. In fact, it had halted at the next signal, also at red, and its driver was unable to contact the signalbox because the trackside phone had been damaged and would not work.

This set the stage for the collision. When the EMU rounded a sharp curve around 100m behind the Indian Pacific, it was travelling at around 40 km/h, faster than the 20 km/h specified for running at extreme caution, leaving the driver no chance to halt his train in time. Extraordinarily, the driver claimed not to have been trained in the use of the emergency brake.

There was little doubt that driver error was the direct cause of the accident, but many questions need to be answered. Communications with the section of route concerned were notoriously bad because of deep cuttings that made radio links difficult, so much so that the line was known for its ’black holes’. Given this fact, it seems quite extraordinary that an electronic train monitoring system for the line had been shut down by the SRA in 1994 and never replaced.