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BHP rail crews locked down the wrong train ahead of its $300 million runaway ore-car disaster last year, according to a preliminary report into the incident by rail safety investigators.
The preliminary investigation by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, released this morning, has revealed a comedy of errors led to the forced derailment, including a rail maintenance crew locking down the wrong train.
The ATSB report does not make any findings of blame for the incident.
But it has pointed the finger at a mistake by a rail maintenance crew, despatched to help apply manual handbrakes to the fully-laden, 268-car train after it stopped 210km from Port Hedland when a braking control cable became disconnected.
Instead of applying the handbrakes from the back on the loaded train, the crew instead stopped at an empty train travelling in the other direction, which had stopped while the miner sorted out the main incident.
But a BHP spokesman said “even if the track support team had have attended the correct train and applied manual brakes it would not have been enough to stop the rollaway event”.
The mistake was only detected after the first train was well on its way and had begun its 91km, 50-minute driverless journey, during which it hit a top speed of 162km/h.
The driver of the second train only noticed the rail gang applying handbrakes to his train after the runaway was already well on its way, according to the report.
The ATSB report confirms train driver Peter Frick — who confidentially settled an unfair dismissal claim against BHP last month — acted on instructions from BHP’s central command centre when he disembarked to begin applying manual handbrakes to the carriages on the ore train.
BHP’s WA iron ore asset president Edgar Basto noted the ATSB’s preliminary report but reaffirmed its own internal investigations had found the incident was the result of “procedural non-compliance by the driver as well as integration issues with the electronically controlled pneumatic braking system to the rail network”.
“Prior to exiting the cabin of the lead locomotive the driver did not apply the automatic brake handle to the emergency position as required in the operating procedure and in accordance with training provided,” Mr Basto said.
“If the automatic brake handle was in the emergency position as per the operating procedure, the train would not have rolled away.
“Our internal investigations also highlighted opportunities to improve the integration of the ECPB system across our rail network.”
This article first appeared on www.perthnow.com.au
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