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SAFETY concerns surround a project to replace the state’s ageing timber railway sleepers after Queensland Rail flagged plans to lower its test standards.
QR called for bids last year for an alternative composite sleeper product to replace more than 700,000 hardwood timber sleepers across the state’s rail network.
Composite sleepers can outlast traditional timber sleepers by decades and match them in strength.
But safety concerns have been raised after an internal QR document, seen by The Courier-Mail, revealed the rail operator was preparing to reduce its testing requirements for the new sleepers.
The document said QR planned to reduce the “pullout load requirements for dogscrews” to 20kN, which was half the 40kN force prescribed in the Australian Standard for testing the strength of timber sleepers.
News 30.5.11 BCM section of the Gympie railway where sleepers are rotting. Supplied Photo Story Peter HallIt has triggered industry concerns about the potential for railway track failures, should the reduced test standard open the door to a cheap, inferior replacement sleeper product.
The test relates to the holding power of the screw spike fixing the track rails to the sleepers.
QR had initially specified the sleeper replacements would need to meet the Australian Standard, requiring screws in the sleepers to not pull out, yield or crack under a test load of 40kN.
One engineer, who asked for his name to be withheld, said there was no compelling evidence to support the lowering of the standard and public safety was at risk.
QR chief executive officer Nick Easy said yesterday extensive investigations into the pull-out strength load performance of composite sleepers specific to QR’s loading scenarios determined 20kN was adequate to meet safety requirements.
Concerns about testing standards is the latest in a series of criticisms about the beleaguered rail operator after a chronic driver shortage triggered the cancellation of hundreds of services.
A review of QR operations by German rail operator Deutsche Bahn in July revealed the train driver shortages and heavily delayed $4.4 billion New Generation Rollingstock project had put transport plans for next year’s Commonwealth Games at risk.
The report also recommended overhauling QR’s management of safety functions and warned of a “high risk of delays” due to ageing trains, kept running for the Games, breaking down.
This article first appeared on www.couriermail.com.au
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