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Transport & Logistics

The Track Insider: Unexpected consequences

12 Mar 2015, by Informa Insights

Bob HammerSometimes the best intentioned actions by one railway discipline can have unexpected consequences for another. Bob Hammer recalls just one example from his career.

Back in the 1970s, as a young civil engineer, I was appointed as the first District Engineer for Parkeston, part of the Permanent Way branch of Commonwealth Railways / Australian National Railways. My job was to manage the maintenance of, and any new construction for, the Trans Australian Railway infrastructure from the middle of the Nullabor Plain through to Kalgoorlie.

We had a selection of earthmoving machinery and construction plant that we used for maintaining embankments, clearing access tracks, clearing waterways and any new construction works. We moved the equipment around from siding to siding via flat-top rail wagons that were picked up by the weekly “Tea and Sugar” and moved on to the next destination.

At each of the crossing loops, such as Forrest, Haig or Naretha, we had an unloading ramp / buffer stop constructed at the end of the siding road. These were generally constructed of a sleeper ‘pig-sty’ filled with compacted earth and tapered down as a ramp to allow us to load and unload the equipment.

Unfortunately, the shunting of long freight trains, in those days, was less than an exact science, and we would occasionally arrive at the siding to find that the flat-top wagon with machinery on top had been shunted through the unloading ramp, damaging it or even totally destroying it.

When I suggested to my staff that we should find a way to address the issue I was told an interesting story.

Apparently one of the Permanent Way foremen (called Roadmasters at the time) had become tired of restoring destroyed loading ramps and had decided to construct the ultimate in buffer stops. According to the story, he found a forgotten flat top wagon, took the coupling off one end and the bogie off the other end. The lower end was buried some 1.5 metres into the ground and the whole structure encased in compacted earth to form an “indestructible” unloading ramp.

All went well for about six months and the buffer stop survived several shunting incidents. Then the foreman in question received a rather terse and pointed letter from the Chief Mechanical Engineer in Port Augusta.

“Your unloading ramp is causing significant damage to my wagons when involved in shunting movements – please remove it immediately.”

So the “indestructible” buffer stop was removed and peace returned to the Trans Australian Railway.

It appears that neither of the engineering disciplines was game enough to suggest that the operations branch should take more care with their shunting operations.

To hear more about how various rail disciplines can work together to achieve common goals visit for information on the 2nd Annual Inter-Disciplinary Rail Engineering Workshop

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