Trains spark debate

Bushfires can start in many ways.

We can’t do anything but be prepared when the ignition point is a lightning strike, but we can do something about the sources that are preventable.

That’s why Operation Nomad police patrol high risk areas and do surveillance on high risk people.

That’s why we cut down vegetation near powerlines, make it illegal for people to neglect the fuel load on their properties and close parks and reserves and prevent people from burning off and using certain machinery on total fire ban days.

It’s also why it is so puzzling for Hills people who live near the railway track that freight trains are allowed to run through bushland on catastrophic days.

The assertions that modern carriages and locomotives do not have problems with sparks are not backed by the observations of the people who live with the transport system on their doorstep.

A long-time campaigner for a freight bypass around the Hills says that trains are responsible for about eight fires in the Hills a year.

The Courier might not be able to account for eight, but it reports on several fires “near railway tracks” most years – all of them relatively minor. Some of the more recent ones have been at Petwood, Nairne, Littlehampton and Verdun.

They do happen which is why it is entirely reasonable that a review is undertaken immediately into the operation of freight trains on catastrophic days in light of the fire in Belair National Park on Saturday.

It must be remembered that rail freight is vital and it would be unreasonable and premature to immediately ban all train movements through the region on every high risk day.

Any review must first establish the initial cause of the fires and then attempt to develop an improved and standardised maintenance regime to allow the rail link to Adelaide to be kept open as often as possible.

The report in today’s Courier from an Aldgate resident that showers of sparks “like fireworks” are regularly emitted from passing trains points to a serious maintenance problem.

If that cannot be overcome, then it is reasonable to stop trains on days of high fire risk.

Fire sweeping through the inaccessible scrub of the Belair National Park and racing up the hill towards the heavily populated areas of Crafer West and Upper Sturt is a very real fear for the CFS.

Many people hearing that fire threatened Sheoak and Upper Sturt roads would have listened to the emergency warning with dread.