Thursday 18th Aug, 2022

Automatic cement loading procedure failed prior to Devonport incident

Photo: ATSB

The remote being used to load cement wagons stopped working, and its operator was unable to force an emergency stop, before it ran away uncontrolled and was eventually derailed, injuring two bystanders in September.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau on Friday published its preliminary report into the incident, where a TasRail bulk cement service ran away from its loading facility at Railton just prior to 9am on September 21, 2018.

The train, weighing 1,132 tonnes and 220 metres long, travelled roughly 21 kilometres in 23 minutes and was then routed into a dead-end siding in Devonport, where it derailed.

Two bystanders sustained minor injuries from fence debris. The train travelled in a derailed state for roughly 60 metres in a public area beyond the dead-end siding.



According to the preliminary report into the incident, the train was being controlled at the cement loading facility by its driver from within the facility, via a remote control.

The train consisted of a TR class locomotive, 16 THFY class bulk cement wagons, and a trailing driver’s van.

It operated between the loading facility in Railton and the unloading facility at Devonport in a push-pull configuration, with motive power provided by one locomotive, at either the back or the front of the train, depending on the direction of travel.

The portable remote control operation allows the driver to be situated at the front of the train – be it the locomotive or the driver’s van – regardless of direction. It also allows the driver to control the train from outside, during loading and unloading.

Just prior to the runaway incident, the driver was progressively aligning wagons beneath the cement loading chutes.

“While the last pair of wagons were being aligned, the train came to a stop past the intended stop location,” the Bureau’s preliminary report states.

“The driver recalled that … he selected reverse to re-align the final two wagons with the loading chutes. However, after selecting reverse, the train became unresponsive to his remote commands.”

According to the report, the driver says he tried multiple times to reset the remote equipment, before deciding to walk towards the lead locomotive to attempt a cold restart of the remote control receiver.

“Before he started to walk … the train slowly began rolling away towards Devonport,” the report states. “The driver recalled trying to activate the emergency stop features of the remote system by removing power to the portable remote control system’s transmitter. However, the train did not respond to these commands and gradually gained speed as it rolled away from the loading facility.”

TasRail says it has suspended use of the locomotive remote control system – which was only used on the Devonport cement service – until the investigation is concluded.

With the preliminary report now complete, the ATSB says its investigation will move on to consider:

  • serviceability of the locomotive, wagons, remote control system, and the interface between them at time of the accident
  • remote control system and locomotive braking operational inspection and testing arrangements
  • design and compatibility of the locomotive, remote control system, and the interface between them
  • implementation management and on-going monitoring of remote control system and locomotive
  • driver qualifications, experience and medical information
  • recovery controls:
    • runaway protection at Railton
    • detection of unauthorised train access to main line from yard
    • effectiveness of emergency response systems.