Runaway Train: The Criticality of Accurate Infield Asset Identification

In the early hours of the morning on November 5 late last year, a BHP remote control centre was forced to deliberately derail a runaway 268-car train fully-laden with 30,000 tonnes of iron ore as it hurtled uncontrollably towards the town of Port Hedland reaching speeds of up to 162km per hour. Incredibly there was no injury to any persons. There were however, significant asset losses, the destruction of rolling stock, damage to 2km of railway line, environmental impacts and a 7-day disruption to iron ore supply. It is now considered one of the biggest train accidents by scale in Western Australia’s history. At the time, industry commentators estimated the incident could cost BHP somewhere in the vicinity of AU$55 million a day and 3 to 8 million tonnes of production.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

BHP undoubtedly has a genuinely authentic and long-held commitment to safety as their number one priority. However, they operate in extremely high-risk environments. This accident, like most, is anticipated to have had a number of triggering events and the result of breakdowns across multiple systems. However, what peaked our interest in this story was a mention in the ATSB’s preliminary report that, amongst other things, a roving maintenance crew had begun applying manual handbrakes to the wrong train which had come to a halt on an adjacent track. It is an observation that makes for a thought-provoking discussion around the importance of accurate asset identification, and how an eyewitness misidentification could potentially contribute to catastrophic circumstances.

Accurate Asset Identification is the First Line of Defence

It is the seemingly basic-yet-complex process of accurate asset identification that is the first line of defence in protecting against missing, lost, stolen, mishandled and runaway assets and preventing breakdowns in system and operating procedures. Accurate asset identification demands a method of definitive item-level authentication – a system that guarantees a unique identity for the asset, item or component, throughout its entire lifecycle. This identity can be securely carried via a variety of tagging, tracking and sensing technologies to maintain visibility of remote assets whatever and wherever they are.

Real-time Visibility for Field Maintenance Crews

This incident also highlights the importance that maintenance crews are afforded this same real-time visibility. They too require the ability to interrogate and authenticate the identity of an asset on-the-spot, not only to minimise wasted resources (time and cost) on unnecessary activities, but to be sure ‘it is this asset and can be no other’, especially in high-risk mission-critical environments. Once verified, they can work to secure assets that pose a risk and be alerted of unwanted events such as misidentification in real-time.

Achieving a Single Source of Truth

Organisations can leverage cloud and mobile-enabled enterprise asset intelligence platforms like assetDNA as a ‘single source of truth’– a centralised dataset that receives and delivers correct and timely asset and lifecycle data for better decisions infield and across the enterprise. Rather than making judgement calls, field operators can identify assets at greater speed and accuracy, eliminate the risks associated with trial and error, and take action with greater confidence. Additionally, asset-intensive operations can:

  • Improve productivity and information accuracy during operational activities and minimise the risk of misidentification.
  • Improve inspection, maintenance and compliance by using configurable mobile workflow and electronic data collection apps which link an asset’s unique identity to infield activities
  • Provide data-driven audit trails and real-time validation during a maintenance operation.
  • Enhance security and compliance by capturing rich and accurate information, faster, and using this to identify unanticipated or rogue events.

Risk-Based Asset Intelligence for Identifying the Most Effective Critical Controls

A powerful extension of assetDNA’s capability is ‘risk-based asset intelligence’ which integrates the capabilities of assetDNA and riskDNA. This unique toolset produces unprecedented levels of insight into the relationship between physical assets and operational risk. More specifically, in the case of accidents like BHP’s runaway train, it can provide superior intelligence around:

  • Modelling and comparing the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of critical controls for railway asset runaway prevention and protection, occurrence and recovery.
  • Clear communication about what good looks like for all critical controls, and the dissemination of operational and safety-critical information to all stakeholders.
  • The assurance that all risks have been identified, the most effective controls are in place (in so far as is reasonably practicable) and that they are operating as anticipated.

Learn More

Whether organisations are approaching working to prevent such accidents ahead of time or responding to incidents from an asset perspective, or even a risk point of view, Relegen’s cloud, serialisation, asset and risk data management and mobile-enabled technology platform has been purpose-built to collect and share data that is accurate, complete and up-to-date. In addition it extends this intelligence into the field so that all levels of the organisation are equipped with the insights they need to take better decisions and action. If you’d like to learn more or request a one-on-one demonstration of Relegen’s enterprise asset and risk intelligence platforms for asset identification, authentication, infield processes, and the management of critical controls, reach out to us at +61 (0)2 9998 9000 or