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BHP rail crews applied brakes to wrong train before $300m runaway disaster

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.

After checking his location he was told by the train controller that he needed to apply handbrakes to secure the loaded train.

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 because they had only been applying brakes for a few minutes and it would have taken much longer to apply enough brakes to hold the train.

“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.

“If the automatic brake handle was in the emergency position as per the operating procedure, the train would not have rolled away.”

Mr Basto said they had shared the findings of their investigations with the rest of the industry and had introduced new protocols and made improvements in their braking procedures.

In February BHP and Mr Frick reached an undisclosed settlement after Mr Frick began unfair dismissal proceedings. It is understood Mr Frick signed a confidentiality agreement following the settlement.

Fran is the editor of WAtoday

Hamish Hastie is WAtoday’s business reporter.

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