December 12, 2022 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Runaway & Derailment of TasRail Freight Train in Devonport, Tasmania


At the time of the runaway, TasRail was using the third generation of RCE developed and manufactured by Air Digital Engineering (ADE) to remotely operate the cement train.

On the morning of September 21, 2018, a train driver was using remote control equipment (RCE) to control and position TasRail train no. 604 so that it could be loaded with cement powder at a siding in Railton, Tasmania. The driver was outside the train and no one else was on board.

Having overshot the intended location to load the last two wagons, the driver attempted to use the RCE transmitter to reverse the train. However, the train did not respond to their commands. The driver attempted procedures to recover the RCE from known failure modes in order to restore control, however, these were unsuccessful.

As the driver began to walk toward the locomotive to attempt to reset equipment, they noticed the train starting to move. They attempted several methods to command the train to stop by using the RCE transmitter, but these were unsuccessful. Instead, the train, which was on a downhill grade, continued to roll away, leaving the siding and entering the main line toward Devonport.

The driver notified TasRail network control of the runaway, and they in turn notified emergency services.

Network control also organized for the points at the entrance to Devonport Yard to be set to divert the train from the main line, which continued past this location into a dead-end siding within the yard.

The train traveled through ten active and three passive public level crossings, beneath a highway overpass, and through five sets of points, mostly at speeds greater than the maximum track speed. It reached a maximum recorded speed of 87.5 km/h.

About 23 minutes after the train rolled away from Railton, it collided with a concrete footing and surrounding fences at the end of the silo siding in Devonport Yard. The derailment caused significant damage to the train’s locomotive and seven wagons, as well as damage to the end of the siding and fences. Fence debris struck two pedestrians who had been walking in the area, resulting in minor injuries to both.

Read here to learn what the ATSB found in its investigation, what has been done as a result, and the safety message.

Source for content and image credit: ATSB (Australian Transport Safety Bureau), “Runaway and derailment of TasRail freight train in Devonport, Tasmania on 21 September 2018.

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