Safety Message: Unsafe Loading of Coal Wagons


This safety message is directed to coal loading operators and any other rolling stock operators responsible for loading coal into wagons.

Recently a coal train consist at a coal loading point on a railway balloon loop off the main line in New South Wales was allowed to depart with an unloaded wagon. The unloaded wagon subsequently derailed on the main line whilst the train was braking to negotiate a curve.

The empty wagon had been sandwiched between two fully loaded wagons resulting in the trailing in-train longitudinal forces either; lifting the wagon off one of its bogies, lifting the wagon and one of its bogies off the rail or, as a precursor, the forces created a diminished wheel loading on wheelsets of the affected wagon - subsequently heightening the risk of derailment.

Further the wagon was retained in the train consist by a solid drawbar connection which prevented uncoupling and resulted in a derailment. One bogie dislodged from the centre casting and rotated under the vehicle before fouling the adjacent track. The derailed bogie was subsequently struck by another coal train traveling on the adjacent track causing that train to derail.

In view of the above, it is imperative that the actual load in each wagon is ascertained at the loading points prior to the consist entering a rail transport operator’s network.

Points to consider

  • Rolling stock operators should check that suitable and sufficient information has been provided to the loading points regarding appropriate wagon loading configurations (i.e. less than safely loaded thresholds) for safe operations.
  • Existing controls for the majority of coal loading facilities are predominantly procedural based i.e. reliance on the competency and fitness for duty (i.e. drug and alcohol, fatigue management, etc.) of their coal load personnel and their vulnerability to human error (or performance variability).
  • Attention of coal loading personnel can also be subject to distraction from other train management, mining and stockpile duties.

The following actions should be taken by rail transport operators

ONRSR requires coal loading operators and rolling stock operators to carry out their respective railway operations in relation to loading coal into wagons of a coal train in a safe manner, to do so in a way that does not threaten safety. Coal loading operators and rolling stock operators should:

  • Review the risks associated with operations and loading of coal trains, in particular ensuring correct and known loading configurations are met for the subsequent movement of the train away from the coal loading facility.
  • In the context of this safety message review the current standards, procedures, rules and control measures including safety interface agreements to ensure:
    • clear delineation of roles and responsibilities;
    • Ongoing effectiveness of existing controls; and
    • Opportunities to implement additional controls including engineering controls such as ultrasonic load profile detectors, track based load cells, etc.)

This advice is effective immediately

Email: contact@onrsr.com.au