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Rescuers narrowly escaped autonomous accident says industry

Rio Tinto driverless train
Rio Tinto driverless train

Emergency responders almost suffered a potentially deadly impact involving a driverless heavy vehicle, an advocacy revealed.

Rio Tinto was recently urged to fully explain how crew members barely avoided a runaway automated train crash about 80km south of Karratha after midnight on 13 May 2024.

Five rescue employees had tried to fix a broken down locomotive when they were told to drop everything they were doing and evacuate immediately.

“They received a mayday signal that an automated iron ore train was going to impact the rear of the train they were working on,” the Mining and Energy Union said in a public statement.

“[They] have been left shaken … [and] the union will be seeking a full explanation from Rio Tinto about why its so-called ‘fail-safe’ systems failed in this instance.”

Western Australian secretary Greg Busson remains “deeply concerned” the workers could have died if they were at a different part of the hauler.

“If these workers were situated at the rear of the train at the time of the incident, we could have seen fatal outcomes. To say that there were no people in the vicinity of the incident is untrue,” he said.

The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator earlier launched an investigation into possible “mechanical failure” and diesel and engine oil contamination in the nearby creek.

Rio stressed there were “no people” near the incident and “no injuries”.

“The incident occurred when an autonomous train collided with a set of stationary wagons, impacting 22 wagons and three locomotives. We have notified the appropriate regulators and commenced an investigation,” a spokesperson said.

Just three months prior a different driverless train derailed about 120km south of Dampier on February 11.

At the time Rio managing director port, rail and core services Richard Cohen pushed to “understand” what had happened after Autohaul systems “worked as required” during derailment.

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