Train brakes back-up alert

North West Telegraph - - News - Nick But­terly

The Fed­eral rail safety reg­u­la­tor has is­sued an ur­gent alert over heavy freight trains af­ter the spec­tac­u­lar de­rail­ment of a BHP iron ore train in the Pil­bara, warn­ing of “se­ri­ous safety con­cerns” over some elec­tronic brakes.

In a no­tice to train oper­a­tors around the coun­try, the Na­tional Rail Safety Reg­u­la­tor has or­dered com­pa­nies to carry out im­me­di­ate checks of trains that use elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled pneu­matic brak­ing, say­ing ini­tial in­quiries into the BHP in­ci­dent have re­vealed po­ten­tial safety is­sues over a fail-safe for the sys­tem.

BHP has given only the barest of de­tails of the Novem­ber 5 episode when the com­pany was forced to de­lib­er­ately de­rail a 258-car run­away ore train af­ter the driver stepped off it to do an in­spec­tion.

BHP said the train came to a stop af­ter a brak­ing sys­tem con­trol ca­ble be­came dis­con­nected and when the driver got off, an emer­gency air brake was not en­gaged.

It said the elec­tric brak­ing sys­tem that ini­tially stopped the train au­to­mat­i­cally re­leased af­ter an hour while the driver was still out­side, but be­cause of an “in­te­gra­tion fail­ure”, the back-up sys­tem did not de­ploy.

The train hur­tled un­con­trolled for 90km at speeds of more than 100km/h be­fore it was run through a sid­ing south of Port Hed­land and de­railed.

The rail safety reg­u­la­tor said in­ves­ti­ga­tors had dis­cov­ered a po­ten­tial is­sue with a sys­tem called Au­to­matic Train Pro­tec­tion, which is sup­posed to pro­vide a back-up to ECP brak­ing.

It said the trains had a soft­ware fea­ture to pre­serve bat­tery life on ECP-fit­ted wag­ons where the elec­tronic brakes are re­leased in some cir­cum­stances — in­clud­ing when there has been no in­put to the sys­tem for 60 min­utes.

“Where these con­di­tions ex­ist, the ECP brak­ing sys­tem will re­lease, cre­at­ing the risk of a roll­away in­ci­dent un­less the air pres­sure within the sys­tem has been re­leased to at­mos­phere,” the alert says.

The reg­u­la­tor said it had found in the event of a roll-away and the fail­ure of the ECP sys­tem, the ATP sys­tem did not fall back on the me­chan­i­cal pneu­matic sys­tem.

The alert or­ders all oper­a­tors to check whether the 60-minute re­lease sys­tem has been pro­grammed into their ECP brak­ing soft­ware.

Train oper­a­tors have been told to con­duct a risk as­sess­ment of the ef­fec­tive­ness of the ATP if there is an ECP brak­ing fail­ure.

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