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Planning underway for returning DL locomotives to service

17 March 2014

KiwiRail is confident the level of risk from exposure to airborne asbestos in its DL locomotives is minimal, following completion of a second round of testing in New Zealand, the results of which were also validated by an internationally recognised occupational medicine expert.

Just seven out of the 204 samples taken showed a very small presence of non-respirable asbestos in five operable locomotives.   Testing confirmed no presence of any asbestos dust in the remaining 34 locomotives that are in the operating fleet.

Chief executive Peter Reidy says the results confirmed early advice that the asbestos presented a low risk and was well contained.

Both the testing regimes and recommendations were being further validated, by Dr John Bisby of International Health consultants based in Victoria, Australia.

While a final report is still underway, Mr Reidy says preliminary advice from Dr Bisby confirms that the probability for any exposure to airborne fibres was low and if any did arise they would be insignificant in relation to both New Zealand and International workplace exposure standards for respirable Chrysotile fibre.

“With the majority of the locomotives showing minimal risk for exposure to airborne fibre, we are confident that appropriate measures can be put in place that will enable us to progressively bring these locomotives back into service soon,” Mr Reidy says.

 An operational plan, which includes a comprehensive set of risk management measures for safe operation, ongoing mitigation and eventual removal of all asbestos containing materials was being finalised in partnership with WorkSafe.

 “We have repeatedly said no locomotive will operate until we are completely satisfied it poses no risk to our people.  To that end we are working through a robust process with our expert advisors and WorkSafe to determine a safe re-entry into operation for the locomotives.”

Mr Reidy says the current lack of capacity is causing supply chain issues for many New Zealand industries and businesses.

“The DL locomotives are the workhorse of our fleet and without their pulling power all customers are feeling the lack of capacity. 

 “Running a safe operation is very important to our business and our customers have understood the need for our focus to be on the welfare of our people.  We are thankful for the group response by the wider transport industry to help manage this situation.

“We want to reassure them we are doing everything we can so we safely get back to normal operation as soon as practicable.” 

KiwiRail is meeting with union officials this week.

Background:

  • A first round of both air and swab tests was undertaken by Asbestos Solutions on 34 out of the 40 locomotives after KiwiRail received confirmation that a soundproofing compound contained 5% Chrysotile (white asbestos).  These showed negative for any airborne asbestos fibres or asbestos dust. 
  • The first round of testing did not include six locomotives – three that were in Napier; two in Kawerau; and a locomotive which is inoperable after an engine fire and would not return to service for several months.
  • Results from a second round of swab tests have been received for all 40 locomotives – these were taken from five separate locations in the engine bay and electrical cabinets of each locomotives.
  • Five operational locomotives have shown presence of Chrysotile fibres – four of these showed fibres in only one location, and the fifth in two of the locations tested.
  • The fire damaged locomotive also returned a positive swab in its engine bay in second round of testing.
  • During the first round of testing, concerns were raised about a packing material used in the doors of the locomotives, which was found to contain asbestos. This is the material in the process of being removed from all the locomotives before being returned to service.
  • Any locomotive which returns a positive test will be re-tested once the door packing material has been safely removed
  • KiwiRail had been advised asbestos in the soundproofing compound was well bonded and would not release airborne fibres unless it had been degraded by heat.  Any degraded material would be removed from locomotives before they were returned to service. 
  • Dr John Bisby is a registered specialist (AHPRA) in Occupational and Environmental Medicine; a life  Fellow of the  Faculty of Occupational and Environmental  Medicine, Royal Australian College of Physicians, and a Fellow of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, Royal College of Physicians, United Kingdom.
  • Dr Bisby’s advice was that the asbestos found in the second round of testing was not of a form that could become airborne and thus respirable.
  • KiwiRail is working with the Chinese manufacturers over the progressive removal of the material over the short to medium term.

ENDS

Media Contact: Senior Communications Advisor Jenni Austin, 021 961 495