An empty wagon on a Newcastle-bound coal train may have played a part in the derailment between Singleton and Muswellbrook that has forced the closure of the Hunter rail line through the long weekend.
Multiple wagons on a loaded Pacific National train bound for Newcastle derailed and were struck by an empty Aurizon train at about 12.25pm on Wednesday.
The Pacific National train was hauling from Yancoal's Moolarben open-cut mine near Mudgee.
Although official investigators are yet to issue a description of what happened, sources familiar with the situation said the collision was probably triggered by an empty wagon on an otherwise full train coming from Moolarben, which popped off the tracks into the path of an oncoming locomotive and empty coal train.
The sources said the force of the laden wagons may have crumpled the empty wagon, tripping its bogey off the tracks.
“Moolarben Coal is currently working with ARTC, Pacific National and the relevant authorities to investigate yesterday’s incident,” a Yancoal statement released on Thursday said.
“It is still too early to determine what factors may have contributed to the incident.”
No injuries occurred in the collision, but a trail of destruction was left on the tracks and is expected to take multiple days to clear.
“The site remains quarantined during this time,” an ARTC spokesperson said on Thursday afternoon.
“The current focus is to ensure as much planning, logistics and materials preparation to mobilise the site is done to enable recovery of the locomotives and wagons, and prepare repairs to the track as safely and quickly as possible.
“At this stage, track and signalling repairs are likely to take place through the long weekend, subject to further assessment of the site once it is handed back to ARTC.”
Passenger train services on the Hunter line have been replaced by buses between Singleton and Scone.
Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator said the impact to coal export supply would be minimal, but a blockage at Newdell Junction means that mines at Ulan, Gunnedah and the Upper Hunter would be unable to shift their coal.
Affected mines would include Ulan, Wilpinjong, Moolarben, Mount Arthur, Bengalla, Drayton, Liddell and Maules Creek.
Aurizon said it will “work closely with its customers on options in coming weeks to recover lost tonnages caused by this major derailment”.
Pacific National said it could not comment beyond minor incident details.
The NSW Office of Transport Safety Investigations and the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator are examining the incident.