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An emergency services exercise on the Airport rail line raised questions about how emergency services could cope with a disaster, the Waterfall inquiry has been told. Wombat 2001 is one of two live exercises dealt with in any detail by the Waterfall inquiry, conducted by Justice Peter McInerney. Both have indicated that had the scenario occurred in real life a catastrophe was likely.
Despite the serious problems revealed in Wombat 2001, little appeared to have been done by the Waterfall crash on January 31 last year, when seven people died. Emergency services descending on the site at Waterfall were hampered by the same confusion, lack of co-ordination and lack of communications.
The electricity authority could have cut off all power to the area immediately, but nobody thought of doing it. Instead, they had to wait for nearly an hour before being given the all-clear. Rescuers were trying to smash their way in to injured passengers when all that needed to be done was to push a button on the train.
In November 2001, Alan Lidbitter, security and emergency manager for the Independent Transport Safety and Reliability Regulator, sent a memo to the then State Rail Authority indicating problems, including a lack of understanding of emergency protocols, which cropped up at Waterfall.
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