MAC: Mines and Communities

What happens when a "driverless" train loses its driver?

Published by MAC on 2018-11-08
Source: ABC News, London Calling

London Calling challenges the digitalisation of "new mining"

BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are both proud promoters of techology designed to autonomise, and economise, their mining operations, ultimately making mining the victor in the contemporary battle between human and artifical intelligence.

This is much like the contest between the medical profession and algorythmic geeks over curing challenging diseases: good for the digital discoverers, doubtless offering hope for those in the global south who, while woefully deprived of hands-on treatment by doctors, nonetheless possess multitudes of i-phones offering diagnoses at a few clicks of a button.

Of course, the "new mining" paradigm doesn't absent human beings from the back seat role of monitoring and controlling the digging up and transporting raw material, though many workers may lose their jobs in the process.

However, when a train loses its driver, who just popped out for a moment, and a company is forced to derail and wreck the engines and carriages - at a cost of lost days and millions of dollars - it surely doesn't augur well for the future.

George Orwell converted his alarming, dystopian, novel 1984, from its original setting in 1948, thus rendering it more relevant for public consumption. The horrendous vision of a takeover by machines of human society interactivity and functions remains with us all.

The prospect of a re-occurence of an accident like the one this week, in Australia's iron ore region of the Pilbara, doesn't seem to concern BHP (which didn't even address the issue at its Australian AGM held later, until it was prompted by a shareholder), nor Rio Tinto. After all, no creature seem to have been hurt, although the hapless driver may be sacked,

Both outfits will continue building and running "driverless" trains - and if necesary driving them into the ground. This is the logic of the entire exercise: 'Let's just get on with developing better technology to reduce the risks'.

But, if such apparitions of "ghosts in the machine" carry on, what will the rest of us be facing in forty or so years time?

The minor mishap of 2018 - or the nightmare scenario of 2081?

[London Calling is published by Nostromo Research and does not necessarily represent the views of any other author. Reproduction is welcomed under a Creative Commons Licence]

Runaway BHP train deliberately derailed near Port Hedland after travelling 92km with no driver

ABC News

6 November 2018

A runaway train laden with iron ore has been deliberately derailed by BHP after it travelled for more than 90 kilometres without a driver in WA's remote Pilbara region.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the fully laden train, made up of four locomotives and 268 wagons, was travelling from the mining town of Newman to Port Hedland at 4:40am on Monday, when the driver hopped out to inspect a wagon near Hester siding.

But the train took off from the siding before the driver could get back on board.

It travelled 92 kilometres in about 50 minutes, until it was derailed at a set of points about 120 kilometres from Port Hedland.

That means the train reached average speeds of about 110 kilometres per hour.

BHP said the derailment was implemented from its Integrated Remote Operations Centre in Perth.

The centre controls the company's Pilbara operations, including rail and port facilities.

The ATSB has begun an investigation into the incident, and a spokesman said it was hoping to interview the train driver as soon as possible.

BHP said no-one was injured in the derailment and it had suspended all train operations while the investigation was carried out.

"We are working with the appropriate authorities to investigate the situation," a company spokesperson said in a statement.
Cost 'might register in millions': analyst

Business analyst Tim Treadgold said the derailment would not have a major effect on BHP's cashflow or share price.

"In the overall scheme of things, this is a very small event," he said.

"Even if they lost three days of access to the rail line, which is possible, it's not a major event.

"We're talking about a company that deals in the billions of dollars, and this might register in the millions, but almost certainly not in the tens of millions."

The incident comes amid a push for driverless train technology, with fellow miner Rio Tinto making its first autonomous iron ore delivery in July.

Three locomotives carried around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore over 280 kilometres from Rio Tinto's mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert.

The load was monitored remotely from Rio Tinto's Operations Centre in Perth, more than 1,500 kilometres away.


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