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Government sues ammonium nitrate trucking company

ammonium nitrate trucking
The site of the ammonium nitrate truck explosion

According to court documents filed, the prime mover veered off the Mitchell Highway in south-west Queensland just before 9 pm on September 5, 2014 and rolled, leading to two massive explosions.

The government launched a lawsuit in the Brisbane Supreme Court claiming more than $7.8 million in damages. The damages relate to the estimated cost of building a temporary detour in addition to replacing the road and railway bridge.

Mr Eden, a truck driver with 17 years’ experience, was travelling south along the Mitchell Highway near Wyandra with three trailers as part of a road train. The truck was carrying about 52.8 tonnes of ammonium nitrate to be used to make bulk explosives for a South Australian mine.

According to court documents filed, the prime mover caught fire about 9.50pm and the driver steered off the highway, causing it to hit a guard rail near the Angellala Creek Bridge and roll onto its side in the dry creek bed.

The crash caused two explosions.  Geoscience Australia recorded the explosions as a magnitude 2.0 earthquake. The force of the explosions resulted in one of the railway bridge spans to be propelled 20 metres through the air.

Police officers in their statements say they saw a “large fireball illuminate the sky in front” and about three seconds later they heard a “loud explosion” and felt a “shockwave” in their vehicle.

In its statement of claim, the government alleges Mr Eden had started work before 8 am and had been driving for more than 12 hours. According to Heavy Vehicle Laws, he was required to take at least an hour break during a 12-hour shift. The Queensland Government alleges he did not take a break implying that fatigue and his action of failing to stop may have contributed to the incident.

The Queensland Government stated that he should be held liable for “failing to exercise the degree of care and attention that would have enabled him to observe the fire sooner and bring the road train safely to a stop”.

Kalari Proprietary Limited has been accused of failing to train the driver in the proper response to vehicle fires, of making the wrong decision by using trailers made from aluminium for transporting the ammonium nitrate and of not properly maintaining vehicles and equipment.

The most likely cause for the initiation of the fire was identified by investigators was as a mechanical fault, such as an overheating tyre.

In response to the Queensland Government’s lawsuit, the defendants claimed that the police report did not identify a definitive reason for the truck veering off the highway and did not conclude fatigue was a factor.

Mr Eden said ‘the flames started at front of the vehicle in front of the windscreen and he considered the safest action to take was to steer off the roadway.’

The defendants also argued that Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigations did not identify any breaches in terms of driver training or vehicle maintenance.

A Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy investigation found vehicle maintenance was not an issue as it was regularly maintained.

The DNRME could not determine what caused the initial fire due to the evidence being destroyed in the explosion and resulting fire.

The matter will return to the Brisbane Supreme Court on Wednesday this week.

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