The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a detailed timeline of the events that led to the derailment of a runaway BHP iron ore train in the Pilbara last November.
The train took off without its driver on the track to Port Hedland, travelling just over 90 kilometres in 50 minutes before being deliberately derailed at Turner’s Siding by remote BHP operators. The driver had left the train to check on an issue that turned out to be a disconnected train-line cable.
This prompted a rail crew to be despatched to apply manual handbrakes to the iron ore train (M02712), according to the ATSB.
The intention was for the driver to apply brakes manually from the front of the train, while the rail crew worked up the trains’ rear.
The crew, however, went to BHP’s empty Yandi Junction-bound ore train (M02727), which had come to a halt due to the first train’s stoppage on an adjacent track.
Due to the error, the rail crew and driver were working on different trains.
“At about 05:02 [AM], the driver of the empty ore train (M02727) stopped at Garden South, contacted Hedland control advising that the Redmont gang had mistakenly applied handbrakes to his train rather than to train M02712,” the report said.
“Train M02712 continued through Spring and Coonarie reaching a speed of 162 kilometres an hour before slowing on the rising grades toward Woodstock.”
A remote crew in Perth eventually derailed the loaded ore train (M02712) at around 5:26 AM at Turner South to prevent the train from reaching Port Hedland. The train was travelling at 144 kilometres an hour when it was derailed.
The derailment destroyed two locomotives, 245 ore cars and two kilometres of track infrastructure, costing BHP around $300 million in costs including the lost ore.
The train driver was fired by BHP, but took a claim to the Fair Work Commission and eventually reached a confidential settlement with the company in February this year.
The report did not lay blame on the rail crew for the incident.