For a whopping 57 miles, a runaway train loaded with iron ore hurtled down tracks in Western Australia with nobody on board.
The train was eventually deliberately derailed, creating a dramatic crash scene with huge lengths of crumpled, twisted metal on the bright orange desert sand next to the train track.
The train, operated by Melbourne-based minerals, oil and gas company BHP, had made a stop on its way to northwest Australia’s Port Hedland. “The driver alighted from the locomotive to inspect an issue with an ore car,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau stated.
That’s when things went south, according to the safety bureau: “While the driver was outside of the locomotive, the train commenced to runaway.” It was eventually deliberately derailed, which was operated by a control center. The ATSB has launched an investigation into Monday’s incident.
The train had four locomotives and 268 wagons, the ATSB said. It averaged about 68 mph and traveled for some 50 minutes before it was derailed, according to Australia’s ABC.
“No one has been injured. We are working with the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation,” BHP said in a statement to Reuters.
Western Australia’s premier, Mark McGowan, told ABC that it was clear “extraordinary measures” had been necessary.
“Obviously it would have been very concerning for everyone involved — BHP and the workforce, and the people of Port Hedland — that a train was traveling down the track without a driver and obviously out of control,” McGowan said.
Industry specialists were confused about why the train would have run away down the tracks.
“Usually, once the driver leaves the train, the brakes are on, there’s procedures for that,” Rail Safety Consulting Australia owner Phillip Barker told ABC. “There would have been a procedure in place to make sure the train didn’t move off.”
BHP has told Bloomberg that it “estimated that about 1.5 kilometers of track has been damaged and anticipates the recovery process to take about one week.”
Analysts think iron ore prices could see a short-term bump as a result of this derailment, according to the news service. BHP is planning to draw from its stockpiles at Port Hedland as it repairs its rail service, The West Australian reported.
And as the company grapples with how, exactly, one of its trains came to be traveling driverless, it’s worth noting that another iron ore company has been working to develop (purposely) driverless trains in Australia.
The Rio Tinto company says it completed its first delivery of iron ore using an autonomous train in July.