Emma Pritchard, Clarence Valley Independent
A Melbourne bound freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed near Morrows Road at Nana Glen, roughly 50km south of Grafton last week, with one locomotive coming to rest on its side and several wagons scattered abruptly throughout nearby paddocks.
The incident occurred shortly after 2am on February 25, following torrential rain and flash flooding throughout the region.
Two of the three Pacific National locomotives involved remained upright, with the third lying on its side in the ballast after becoming unattached from the others which travelled 100m further down the line on the sleepers following the derailment.
16 wagons of the 1500m long freight train left the tracks, resulting in a mangled mess with four wagons lying in floodwater.
All 16 wagons contained general freight.
Although deeply shaken by the incident, the driver and co-driver were lucky to escape without injuries.
Both were assessed by NSW Ambulance and transported to Coffs Harbour Fire Station.
Concerns were raised over reports the freight train was carrying dangerous goods, later revealed to be paint products including aerosols and resin and contaminated wastewater.
Thankfully, the wagons containing the hazardous materials were situated towards the rear of the train and remained upright.
Fire and Rescue NSW crews, NSW Police and representatives from the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and hazmat specialists attended the scene with renewed concerns following the revelation that one of the stricken locomotives was leaking diesel fuel.
An EPA spokesperson told the media an estimated 11000 litres had been lost.
Water samples have been taken and the EPA contacted Clarence Valley Council amidst concerns of a possible contamination of the nearby Orara River which was at moderate flood levels at the time of the derailment.
Specialised hazmat containment booms have been established to prevent any further spread and the EPA is continuing to work with NSW Police and Fire and Rescue NSW to provide further updates.
Residents along the railway line at Nana Glen said they didn’t hear the impact due to the heavy rain at the time of the derailment, with several of them used to the sound of trains passing by.
Daylight revealed the full extent of the damage with some of the wagons being thrown more than 40m away from the railway line.
Although investigations into the cause of the derailment are continuing, it is alleged the severe weather conditions weakened the embankment which supported the train tracks.
A freight train bound for Brisbane travelled along the section of track where the derailment occurred less than two hours prior to the incident.
Two Pacific National locomotives arrived at the site on February 26 and departed for Brisbane later that afternoon with the remainder of the freight wagons.
The remote location of the incident and continuous wet weather is severely hampering rescue efforts with more than 50ml of rain falling less than 24 hours after the derailment.
In a recent Facebook post, the Nana Glen Rural Fire Brigade announced as of February 27, the entire length of Morrows Road is currently restricted to local traffic and a manned 24-hour checkpoint has been established 1km from the derailment site.
People are being urged to avoid the area.
Salvage efforts are currently underway, weather permitting, and the line is expected to remain closed until next week.
This article appeared in the Clarence Valley Independent, 3 March 2021.