V/Line was involved in five serious incidents of environmental damage in 2007-2009, including killing critically endangered plants, contaminating water and spilling more than 80,000 litres of diesel into the Geelong sewerage system.

The incidents are detailed in the V/Line annual report, which reveals that the organisation has had several notices issued over environmental damage in the past two years.

At the time of the report, the company was addressing a “Clean Up Notice” issued on May 2008 over contamination on railway land in Ararat, which was expected to cost nearly $1 million dollars to clean up, and a pollution abatement notice issued in November 2009 regarding discharging diesel into storm-water drains at Traralgon. The Traralgon diesel discharge occurred during refuelling, and V/Line has taken action to modify the fault responsible.

In July 2009 V/Line spilled a colossal 81,000 litres of diesel into the Geelong sewerage system during a “fuel incident” involving a faulty train valve. V/Line spokeswoman Clare Steele said the system had since been redesigned, and the faulty valve removed. The V/Line report says that the company worked with the EPA and Barwon Water “with regard to this unauthorised discharge”.

In the same month, V/Line entered into an enforceable undertaking with the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts after a contractor hired by the company destroyed up to 38 examples of the critically endangered Spiny rice-flower, while maintaining fire breaks on the Eaglehawk to Piangil rail line at Mitiamo in 2007. The contractor had failed to seek approval for the work.

V/Line claimed it was not responsible for the incident, but agreed to pay compensation of more than $188,000, which was used to for training of staff and contractors, building a fence around the site and the  appointment of a contractor to monitor the site, and assist in research and the long-term revival  of the Spiny rice-flower.

Finally, in September 2009, a train derailment in the Stonyford area resulted in an estimated 1250 litres of diesel being spilled. The accident was a result of a collision between a Warrnambool train and three large cypress trees that had fallen onto the track during stormy weather.

As a result, V/Line instigated a $3.5 million program to improve vegetation management on rail reserves across the state.

Steel told Crikey last week that V/Line accepted responsibility for only three of the five incidents. She said that Ararat was a “legacy contamination”, meaning that it had occurred before the company’s occupancy of the regional rail lease in 2007. She said that the Stonyford incident was “the result of a train hitting a tree which fell from private property”.

Steel admitted that the three other issues, for which V/Line acknowledged responsibility, were “too many over as many years” and “accidents that could have been avoided”.

Peter Fray

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