The near miss on the Paterson line, out of Maitland, is being investigated by the Office of Transport Safety Investigations.
Chief investigator Paul O’Sullivan said it was not clear what had happened “other than we ended up with some passengers on a track looking at the front-end of a train that stopped 80 metres from them”.
‘‘We are taking this very seriously,’’ he said. ‘‘If you are going to detrain passengers you need to clearly make sure the whole track is safe ... that all trains are stopped in effect.”
Mr O’Sullivan said his office, which is investigating the possible safe working breach on behalf of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, is looking at what was happening with the signals, the controls and the communications between the various trains and operation centres that allowed passengers to be on a live track.
“The communication part is very important to this investigation’’ – to understand what was happening between all the parties, he said.
Five people had been stepped-off the NSW Trains passenger service V938 onto the passing loop at Kilbride after a freight train broke down and blocked the main line to Paterson.
An elderly man who was too frail to alight remained on the V938 that was later in the path of the Sydney to North Coast XPT. Crew had been directed to step the passengers down onto the line and shepherd them to a waiting bus.
Meanwhile the driver of the XPT NT33 was also diverted into the passing loop, although the freight train had since been moved off the main line. The driver applied the emergency brakes when he saw passengers on the track, bringing the train to a halt 80metres short of hitting them.
Mr O’Sullivan said only in extreme circumstances should passengers be asked to disembark in the middle of nowhere. And in those cases operators had to be ‘‘absolutely certain’’ the whole track was safe.
He said the XPT was ‘‘quite appropriately diverted’’ into the loop because of the freight train that was blocking the main line."
Newcastle Morning Herald