Preliminary report released 15 August 2013

What happened

On 4 June 2013, track workers were preparing a road rail vehicle to travel to a worksite near Rinadeena Station on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, Tasmania, when the vehicle unexpectedly started to roll backwards down a 1:20 grade. The driver was unable to slow the vehicle, so he and the passenger jumped clear, sustaining minor injuries.

The now unmanned out-of-control vehicle continued to accelerate down the steep grade, heading towards a second road rail vehicle containing four track workers. Two passengers of the second vehicle jumped clear, sustaining minor injuries, but a third passenger and the driver were still inside when the unmanned road rail vehicle collided with theirs. The passenger sustained minor injuries but the driver was trapped and seriously injured in the collision. He was subsequently removed from the vehicle and air lifted to hospital. Both road rail vehicles were extensively damaged.

What the ATSB has found so far

The preliminary ATSB investigation has found that the vehicle’s rear road-going tyres were lifted from the track during an inspection of the rear rail guidance wheels. As a result, the braking force provided by them was lost and the vehicle began to roll down the grade.

The investigation has also found that West Coast Wilderness Railway had not considered all of the risks associated with operating road rail vehicles on the steep railway.

What's been done as a result

Immediately after the incident, West Coast Wilderness Railway suspended all road rail operations and initiated a full review of its management of the safety of these vehicles. This has led to the development of updated procedures and training and a review of suitable on/off tracking points.

Safety message

All rail organisations operating road rail equipment should consider the advice in safety alert RISN Number 7/2012 Risk associated with Hirail Operations (issued by the Department of Infrastructure, Energy & Resources, Tasmania) and review their management of the risks associated with these operations.