Probe on ore rail­way in­ci­dent

Run­away ore train ex­poses Aus­tralia’s re­liance on desert rail­way

The Star Malaysia - StarBiz - - Foreign News -

PERTH: A net­work of pri­vate rail­roads more than three times the length of the New York sub­way sys­tem is the key life­line for Aus­tralia’s A$61.3bil (US$44.5bil) iron ore ex­port in­dus­try.

So when there’s a de­rail­ment in the big­gest ship­per – global mar­kets as well as the ground shud­der.

A run­away train that de­railed this week af­ter trav­el­ling 92 km with­out a driver, forced BHP Bil­li­ton Ltd, the third-largest iron ore ex­porter, to halt rail­way op­er­a­tions. The com­pany said yes­ter­day that it ex­pects to re­store par­tial op­er­a­tions in about a week and it is in talks with cus­tomers over con­trac­tual com­mit­ments as stock­piles at Port Hed­land aren’t ex­pected to cover the pe­riod of dis­rup­tion.

BHP and au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing how the in­ci­dent oc­curred. The driver was in­spect­ing an is­sue with the train when the lo­co­mo­tive ran away, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Along with other safety mea­sures, most freight trains in Aus­tralia are fit­ted with a dead-man switch that re­quires the driver to push a but­ton or a pedal ev­ery 45 sec­onds to keep the train mov­ing.

Be­tween them, BHP and ri­val ex­porters Rio Tinto Group, Roy Hill Hold­ings Pty and Fortes­cue Met­als Group Ltd, own a to­tal of about 3,664 km of in­di­vid­u­ally-op­er­ated pri­vate track in the vast Pil­bara, the world’s big­gest iron ore ex­port­ing re­gion.

With­out work­ing rail, their mines would be stranded, with some more than 400 km away from the clos­est port along Aus­tralia’s rugged north­west coast­line. On the other side of the coun­try, a fur­ther 3,120 km of com­bined rail de­liver coal to ex­port ports. Aus­tralia is also the big­gest ex­porter of coal.

Com­pa­nies con­sider the rail­ways a cru­cial part of their pro­duc­tion line and both BHP and Rio fought a years-long bat­tle to keep Fortes­cue from ac­cess­ing any part of its tracks in a pro­posed in­fra­struc­ture-shar­ing ar­range­ment.

Rio is spend­ing US$940mil up­grad­ing its rail­ways to be­come driverless, re­duc­ing op­er­at­ing costs. BHP has not switched to au­ton­o­mous trains and said the af­fected train was not part of any driverless trial.

Aus­tralia is lift­ing ex­ports of iron ore. To­tal ex­ports – to coun­tries led by China – may reach a record 878 mil­lion tonnes next year, up from 858 mil­lion tonnes this year, ac­cord­ing to Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment sta­tis­tics. — Bloomberg

Min­ing con­nec­tion: BHP Bil­li­ton’s iron ore be­ing stock­piled for ex­port at Port Hed­land in West­ern Aus­tralia. BHP, Rio Tinto Group, Roy Hill Hold­ings and Fortes­cue Met­als own a to­tal of 3,664 km of rail­way track in Aus­tralia. — AFP

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