The BHP rail crews applied brakes to the wrong train just minutes before the brakes of another iron ore train on the adjacent track failed, sparking a $300 million derailment disaster, a preliminary report has found.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau report also provides shocking details on how the 268-wagon 42,500-tonne train reached speeds of up to 162km/h before it was finally derailed on the company’s private rail line 120 kilometres south of Port Hedland on November 5 last year.
The ATSB is yet to point fingers and did not lay blame on the driver of the train, South Australian man Peter Frick, 63, who was driving M02712 at the time and was sacked just days before Christmas following the catastrophe.
The explosive report outlines major errors in communication which led to the embarrassing mistake of maintenance crews applying brakes to the wrong train.
At 3.40am the train’s emergency brakes were triggered on the west track between Shaw and Garden South after communication between the lead locomotive and the rear was lost.
Mr Frick made a radio call to the control centre and contacted BHP’s rail maintenance crews to assist him.
Mr Frick decided not to wait for maintenance crews to arrive and started to apply the required brakes, starting at the front of the train.
Just minutes later an empty iron ore train, M02727, which was travelling on the adjacent east track, had to stop at Garden South due to the blocking precautions set up by the controller.
About 30 minutes later the BHP maintenance crews alerted the train controller of their arrival to assist the driver in applying handbrakes.
The controller advised to start at the rear of the train towards the driver, only it wasn’t Mr Frick’s train they had started applying the handbrakes to.
The train began moving and Mr Frick tried to alert the BHP maintenance crew but received no response.
Shortly after the train rolled away, travelling 90 kilometres before BHP’s Perth remote operations centre forcibly derailed it 120 kilometres south of Port Hedland.
About 5am the driver of the other train contacted controllers advising the maintenance gang had mistakenly applied handbrakes to his train rather than the rollaway.
BHP has argued even if the maintenance crew hadn’t made the embarrassing blunder it would have made no difference.
“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,” a spokeswoman said.
The company is also resolute that Mr Frick was partly to blame by not applying the train’s emergency brake.
BHP WA iron ore president Edgar Basto said 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.
“As noted in previous statements, we found in our internal investigations that the rollaway incident was the result of procedural non-compliance by the driver as well as integration issues with the electronically controlled pneumatic braking (ECPB) system to the rail network,” he said.