Inner East Review

Rail operators fined $525k over fatal train derailment

By Tara Cosoleto
Updated April 3 2024 - 2:15pm, first published 2:13pm
The XPT train derailment killed the driver and another rail worker. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)
The XPT train derailment killed the driver and another rail worker. (David Crosling/AAP PHOTOS)

Two train operators have been fined a total of $525,000 over a Victorian derailment that killed two men, but the victims' families feel let down.

NSW Trains and the Australian Rail Track Corporation were sentenced in Melbourne Magistrates Court on Wednesday after admitting they breached the state's rail safety laws.

Experienced driver John Kennedy, 54, and rail worker Sam Meintanis, 49, were killed when their XPT passenger train came off the tracks at Wallan, north of Melbourne, on February 20, 2020.

Another eight passengers were seriously hurt and 58 others sustained minor injuries.

NSW Trains and Australian Rail admitted they failed to ensure the safety of their railway operations and those failures led to deaths and serious injuries.

The charges carry a maximum fine of $1.5 million, but the highest penalty available in the magistrates court is a $413,000 fine.

Magistrate Brett Sonnet steered clear of the maximum sentence on Wednesday, instead ordering NSW Trains to pay $150,000, while ARTC was fined $375,000.

Both train operators were convicted, with half of the fine told to go directly to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.

The passenger train had been travelling from Sydney to Melbourne when it was diverted through the Wallan loop track because signalling was down on the normal route.

Instead of entering the loop section at the required 15km/h, the train was travelling at speeds of between 114km/h and 127km/h.

Prosecutor Sally Flynn KC said excessive speed caused the derailment, due to several factors including an inadequate risk assessment by Australian Rail about the train's diversion.

Mr Kennedy was not aware, before his shift began about, the changes to the route and there was no caution or speed signs to warn him as he approached.

In his sentencing remarks, Mr Sonnet noted Mr Kennedy applied the emergency brakes in the seconds before the train derailed.

There was no doubt that decision stopped the tragedy from being even worse.

"(Mr Kennedy) should be remembered for that," the magistrate said.

Mr Sonnet also noted the moving statements from Mr Kennedy's wife Jenny and Mr Meintanis' partner Naomi Bruce.

The magistrate also took into account the operators' guilty pleas and apologies to the families when handing down his sentence.

Outside court, Mrs Kennedy said she felt let down by the penalties the operators received.

"I feel like John's life didn't matter," she told AAP.

"John, who had 40 years on the rail, followed safety policies and procedures and they let him down."

Ms Bruce told AAP the sentence fell short of her expectations but she felt relief that the hearings were finally over.

"I was trying to recover and get through all the grief and the pain of losing Sam, and the accident just kept being brought up," she said.

"In some ways, I like to fall back into the grief because it makes me feel like I'm close to Sam again.

"But it hasn't been on my own terms. Now I can grieve on my own terms."

An Australian Rail spokesman said the operator would continue to improve safety systems across its rail network.

A spokeswoman for NSW Trains said it was also focused on reducing the risk of a similar incident happening again by refining its systems and training.

Australian Associated Press