Western Australia Iron Ore

A simple solution to a complex problem

In 2015, Lorraine from BHP's Western Australia Iron Ore asset became a Rail Operations Analyst and Improvement Superintendent.

Lorraine is part of the team responsible for safety and efficiency on the 500 kilometre-long BHP owned rail line between Port Hedland and the Pilbara in Western Australia.

An engineer with multiple degrees, she has worked in several different areas of the business but until recently had no experience in rail.

“I knew absolutely nothing about rail when I joined in 2015,” she said.

“But I was drawn to it because it offered an opportunity to look at an entire supply chain and be part of the team charged with finding solutions to improve the whole system.”

The line requires 450 train drivers moving millions of tonnes of iron ore annually from the Company’s five mines in the region.

Ironically, the problem that was worrying Lorraine wasn’t on the rails, but on the old red gravel service road running beside it.

“The train drivers are only allowed to work a maximum of 12 hours at the controls,” said Lorraine.

“But the length of the train journeys won't allow them to go from start to destination and home again in that time.”

So over the years, a solution developed where a fresh train driver, drove a light vehicle on the access road to meet the train and swap drivers to finish the run.

The old driver then had to drive the light vehicle home.

“A long drive after controlling a train with four locomotives and 268 ore cars is bad enough,” explained Lorraine.

“But at night, the road is constantly crossed by cows, kangaroos and even camels, so it’s very dangerous.”

Providing passionate people with the right information is very powerful and we ended up with a solution that the entire workforce wanted

Each month, the train drivers clocked up a staggering eighty five thousand kilometres of driving time behind the wheel after their rail shifts.

“That’s like driving around the world twice, every month." Lorraine said.

“With that much time on that sort of road, it got to the point where more than half of the vehicle fleet was damaged and unroadworthy because of incidents.”

Amazingly, no one had been seriously injured when Lorraine joined the rail team.

“Over time, the dangers of the driver-swap process had just crept up and many people didn’t want to believe there was really a problem," she said.

“Others took the attitude that if there was a problem, it was so insurmountable it couldn’t be fixed."

Lorraine said it was clear that no single person could solve the problem.

“So it was a case of pulling the right people together and supplying them with the right information.”

With the support of her supervisor, Shane, her first step was to bring together a team of train drivers, supervisors, co-ordinators and track maintainers.”

“We gave them the facts and asked them how to resolve this from a safety, production and supply chain standpoint.”

What they created is a system similar to that run by airlines, where staff on longer hauls don’t try and return to home base but stay overnight.

“Providing passionate people with the right information is very powerful and we ended up with a solution that the entire workforce wanted and strove for as a unit," she said.

And the results of the new system speak for themselves.

The distance travelled by car has now dropped by 96% to just three thousand kilometres a month.

Plus there's been an increase of 13 million tonnes of ore transported annually.

“It’s an enormous result and makes me incredibly proud of the team," Lorraine said.

“It’s awesome.”