[LINK] WA and now Tas Remote Train Control Failures

Roger Clarke Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
Mon Nov 12 09:05:04 AEDT 2018

[There was a train disaster in Western Australia the other day:

[In the WA case, BHP could control the points remotely, but not the 
train's brakes.  Presumably the company has control of the corridor, so 
there ought to be wireless comms with the train.  So has BHP failed to 
implement remote control of its train's braking systems, or is there 
insufficient redundancy in the onboard controller or comms?

[On the basis of the report below, insufficient redundancy in the 
onboard controller or comms seems a likely cause of the Tassie crash.]

Tasmania halts sole remote control train
ATSB says systems wouldn't respond, led to runaway and crash
Simon Sharwood
Nov 10 2018

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has concluded that a runaway 
train incident in Tasmania was caused by problems with its remote 
control system.

The train in question was a bulk cement carrier that “is operated as a 
driver-alone operation in a push-pull configuration with motive power 
provided from one locomotive.”

“To facilitate this push-pull configuration, a portable remote control 
system is used to control the locomotive,” the Bureau’s report states.

“The portable remote control system can be used both from outside of the 
train driver’s cabin during loading or unloading operations, and from 
within the leading driver’s cabin.”

But on September 21st, 2018, the remote failed.

“The driver was situated within the cement loading facility, and was 
remotely controlling the train to align wagons to the loading chutes,” 
the investigation report states.

“While the last pair of wagons were being aligned, the train came to a 
stop past the intended stop location.”

“The driver recalled that, at approximately 0842, 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.”

The driver “attempted multiple times to reset the remote control 
equipment with the portable remote transmitter. After allowing time for 
the remote control system to recover, the locomotive continued to be 
unresponsive to his commands.”

The driver therefore tried to board the train to reboot the remote 
control system, but before he could get aboard “the train slowly began 
rolling away towards Devonport”.

“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,” investigators said.

“However, the train did not respond to these commands and gradually 
gained speed as it rolled away from the loading facility.”

21km later, the train was routed into a dead-end siding, where it 
crashed. Two people were injured.

The Bureau has not yet figured out why the remote control failed. But 
TasRail has suspended all use of the remote control system from its 
operations, pending the conclusion of investigations.

It will be some time before the Bureau offers an opinion on exactly what 
happened: its initial report is the result of evidence collection. 
Examination and analysis of that evidence is yet to take place, and a 
draft final report is likely months in the future.

Roger Clarke                            mailto:Roger.Clarke at xamax.com.au
T: +61 2 6288 6916   http://www.xamax.com.au  http://www.rogerclarke.com

Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd      78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA 

Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law            University of N.S.W.
Visiting Professor in Computer Science    Australian National University

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