Rail turnout - RISSB

ARA rejects leadership, membership unrest

The Australasian Railway Association has rejected speculation in regard to leadership changes and membership unrest.

This follows an article published today on the Rail Express website today which reported on the separation of the ARA board and the Rail Industry Safety Standards Board (RISSB) and also an ARA announcement to members that it will undertake a review of its role in the Australasian rail industry.

The Rail Express article quoted un-named sources which speculated on ramifications of the split in the ARA and RISSB boards.

“The fact that Rail Express sourced and published the content of this member communique is disappointing in itself but to rouse speculation on the roles of the ARA staff is completely pre-emptive not only to the ARA and our staff but also to the review process currently underway,” the spokesperson said.

FOOTNOTE: The earlier Rail Express article indicated that the ARA Chief Executive, Bryan Nye, had not responded to calls further information. Rail Express acknowledges that Mr Nye was not contacted personally about this matter.

Mineral Resources bulk ore transport system BOTS

MinRes boss comments on ‘iron ore monorail’

Chris Ellison, managing director of Mineral Resources, has spoken publicly about the company’s ambitious plan to construct a first-of-its-kind, driverless monorail for iron ore transport in the Pilbara.

The bulk ore transport system (BOTS) was described by Mineral Resources in its half yearly presentation late in February as “occupying a niche between heavy rail and conveyor”.

“BOTS is an autonomous system utilising electrically powered, purpose designed wagons to transport bulk ore materials.”

The first instance of BOTS, which is set to be built for BC Iron’s Iron Valley mine – but will have around 30mtpa of excess capacity for third parties – will consist of 13 bottom-dumper wagons and one ‘power car’ per set, with each wagon bearing a 15 tonne payload.

Each 2km driverless train will consist of 20 to 24 sets, which translates to between 260 and 312 wagons, and up to 4600 tonnes in total payload.

BOTS will be able to travel at 80km/h fully loaded, will have fully redundant communications, and will be controlled via a remote operations control centre, Mineral Resources said in February.

Despite being a line of wagons on rails, Mineral Resources insists BOTS is not simply a ‘railway’, with the distinction coming down to how the wagons are moved.

“Unlike a railway system, BOTS does not rely upon a locomotive to pull the wagons,” the company explained, “but instead utilises a diesel/LNG powered electricity generation system that distributes electricity to the individual wagons for self-propulsion.

“BOTS vehicles will move on a purpose built, elevated structure that will pass over existing road and rail infrastructure and will not impact existing surface water flows.”

Road and rail crossings, as well as creek crossings, will be navigated by 45m span trusses up to 10m high. Creek crossings will be reinforced for high flow and debris protection.

Mineral Resources thinks the BOTS can “revolutionise” transport of bulk ore, by offering a cost effective solution in the face of the iron ore price slump, while also being environmentally responsible, and focusing on a reduced development footprint, and an easy removal down the line.

Ellison, in an interview with Fairfax this week, said the project was designed to be a solution for miners when – as he believes – the iron ore price drops below US$50 a tonne.

“We want to make money when iron ore is sub-US$50 a tonne and we want our clients to as well,” Ellison was quoted as saying by the AFR.

“What we really think we can do is help Australian mining get down to the lower quartile [in terms of costs]. What it needs to be is Australia competing with other countries, not each other, if we want to make Australia wealthy.

“If iron ore is going to China and Japan, it’s better if it’s Australian iron ore.”

The first BOTS project will provide 12mtpa of capacity for BC Iron’s mine, Iron Valley – a 331km journey from the export facilities at Port Hedland.

“Other mines along the route could add an extra 30mtpa of iron ore,” Mineral Resources said in February, with “discussions in progress” relating to that capacity.

The company hopes to start work on the project by the end of this year. It hopes to handle the first Iron Valley ore on BOTS by mid-2017. It says the WA government has been positive in its response to BOTS.

If the ambitious Pilbara project goes ahead, and is successful, Mineral Resources says it has “wide-spread potential applications” across the entire bulk commodities industry.

Aurizon Train

Aurizon runs mega-train to WICET

Bedding coal has been delivered to the new Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET) via the longest train rail operator Aurizon has ever put through its Central Queensland Coal Network.

The 2.3km train last week carried 11,000 tonnes of coal in 136 wagons through the Blackwater rail system to the new port, which was constructed by a joint venture of a number of coal mining companies.

The bedding coal is being used to establish the stockpiles at WICET as it gears up for its first shipments of export coal.

Aurizon’s executive vice president of operations Mike Franczak said the operation was a sign of things to come.

“We’re moving more tonnes, on larger trains, from mine to port as we drive improved efficiency across the coal supply chain,” Franczak said.

“This is an excellent outcome for customers, our supply chain partners and the Queensland coal industry generally.”

Franczak said the Brisbane-based rail company has achieved several innovative operational improvements in recent years, including lifting payloads, improving locomotive reliability, and bettering online performance.

“Quite simply, we are getting smarter about the way we use our existing assets,” Franczak continued. “The drive to improve train payloads at Aurizon draws on the very best available technology and innovation in the areas of train marshalling, train handling and track/train dynamics.”

The effect of this, he explained, is that as the company improves its capacity and productivity, it is also reducing the amount of workers on the trains, “making for a safer, more energy-efficient mode of transportation”.

Coal trains for export will commence in earnest next month. The average Aurizon train on the Central Queensland Coal Network has around 100 wagons and a pay load of about 8,500 tonnes of coal.

The Track Insider: Unexpected consequences

Sometimes the best intentioned actions by one railway discipline can have unexpected consequences for another. Bob Hammer recalls just one example from his career.

Back in the 1970s, as a young civil engineer, I was appointed as the first District Engineer for Parkeston, part of the Permanent Way branch of Commonwealth Railways / Australian National Railways. My job was to manage the maintenance of, and any new construction for, the Trans Australian Railway infrastructure from the middle of the Nullabor Plain through to Kalgoorlie.

We had a selection of earthmoving machinery and construction plant that we used for maintaining embankments, clearing access tracks, clearing waterways and any new construction works. We moved the equipment around from siding to siding via flat-top rail wagons that were picked up by the weekly “Tea and Sugar” and moved on to the next destination.

At each of the crossing loops, such as Forrest, Haig or Naretha, we had an unloading ramp / buffer stop constructed at the end of the siding road. These were generally constructed of a sleeper ‘pig-sty’ filled with compacted earth and tapered down as a ramp to allow us to load and unload the equipment.

Unfortunately, the shunting of long freight trains, in those days, was less than an exact science, and we would occasionally arrive at the siding to find that the flat-top wagon with machinery on top had been shunted through the unloading ramp, damaging it or even totally destroying it.

When I suggested to my staff that we should find a way to address the issue I was told an interesting story.

Apparently one of the Permanent Way foremen (called Roadmasters at the time) had become tired of restoring destroyed loading ramps and had decided to construct the ultimate in buffer stops. According to the story, he found a forgotten flat top wagon, took the coupling off one end and the bogie off the other end. The lower end was buried some 1.5 metres into the ground and the whole structure encased in compacted earth to form an “indestructible” unloading ramp.

All went well for about six months and the buffer stop survived several shunting incidents. Then the foreman in question received a rather terse and pointed letter from the Chief Mechanical Engineer in Port Augusta.

“Your unloading ramp is causing significant damage to my wagons when involved in shunting movements – please remove it immediately.”

So the “indestructible” buffer stop was removed and peace returned to the Trans Australian Railway.

It appears that neither of the engineering disciplines was game enough to suggest that the operations branch should take more care with their shunting operations.

To hear more about how various rail disciplines can work together to achieve common goals visit www.informa.com.au/railworkshop for information on the 2nd Annual Inter-Disciplinary Rail Engineering Workshop.

 

Iron ore train - credit BHP Billiton

Bulk of BHP’s rail interests to stay in spin-off move

BHP Billiton has formalised the 10 key assets that will make up its spin-off business South32, but the bulk of the company’s rail-relevant assets will stay within BHP.

BHP chief executive Andrew Mackenzie addressed shareholders yesterday, saying the spin-off – which was announced late last year – was aimed at simplifying the portfolio of the greater BHP business, while also creating a promising new company.

The spin-off of 10 key assets into the new company, South32, will leave the ASX-listed giant with its four key ‘pillars’ to work on: coal, iron ore, oil & gas, and copper/gold.

Coal and iron ore are of course the two most relevant aspects of BHP when it comes to the rail industry in Australia.

Illawarra Coal will be moved to South32, but the majority of BHP’s other Australian coal and iron ore ventures will stay with the larger business.

“With a simplified portfolio we intend to streamline our organisational model, further standardise our common systems and better leverage our technical expertise across our operations,” Mackenzie said.

“Having achieved significant productivity gains to date, future gains will be harder won … The demerger will materially simplify our portfolio in a single step and in the longer term allow us to further focus on delivering gains…”

South32 will include assets within a few key product groups:

Bauxite, alumina and aluminium

  • Worsley Alumina: an 86% interest in an integrated bauxite mining and alumina refining operation located in WA.
  • South Africa Aluminium: a 100% interest in the Hillside smelter near Richards Bay, South Africa.
  • Mozal Aluminium: a 47.1% interest in the Mozal Aluminium smelter located near Maputo, Mozambique.
  • Brazil Aluminium: a 14.8% interest in the Mineração Rio do Norte open-cut bauxite mine, as well as a 36% in the Alumar alumina refinery, and a 40% interest in the Alumar aluminium smelter, along with interests in certain ancillary facilities, all in Brazil.

Coal

  • South Africa Energy Coal: a 90% interest in four operating energy coal mines in the Witbank region in the Mpumalanga province, South Africa.
  • Illawarra Metallurgical Coal: a 100% interest in three underground metallurgical coal mines near Wollongong, NSW.

Manganese

  • Australia Manganese: a 60% interest in the Groote Eylandt Mining Company (GEMCO) open-cut manganese mine, and the Tasmanian Electro Metallurgical Company (TEMCO) manganese alloy plant. GEMCO is on Groote Eylandt, an island off the Northern Territory’s eastern coastline. TEMCO is near Bell Bay, in Tasmania.
  • South Africa Manganese: a 44.4% effective interest in the Mamatwan open-cut mine and the Wessels underground mine, and a 60% interest in the Samancor Manganese Metalloys alloy plant, in South Africa.

Other base metals

  • Cerro Matoso: a 99.94% interest in an open-cut lateritic nickel mine and ferronickel smelter located near Montelibano, in the Córdoba Department, northern Columbia.
  • Cannington: a 100% interest in a silver, lead and zinc underground mine and concentrator operation located roughly 200km southeast of Mount Isa, Queensland.

Together, the South32 businesses comprise gross assets of US$26.723bn as at December 2014, according to BHP’s figures.

The assets contributed net profit after tax of US$738m in the first half of the 2014/15 financial year.

Graham Kerr, elected as the inaugural chief executive of South32, said while the new company is comprised of existing assets, he intends to run the business as a new player in the global market.

“We are building a new company from the ground up,” Kerr said. “We will have competitive assets significant reserve lives and financial strength.”

BHP formally recommended the demerger to shareholders yesterday. It will be voted upon on May 6, in what is likely a formality process.

The South32 assets as at December 31, 2014, included net debt of US$674m, which should please major BHP shareholders, who have expressed a desire to have South32’s net debt below US$1.5bn.

Road projects - Ingram Publishing

Albanese grills Government on road choices

Shadow minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese has again called out the Government for its propensity to fund major road projects, suggesting that Infrastructure Australia is being ignored in Federal decision making.

Speaking at an Australian Logistics Council forum in Melbourne on March 12, the former deputy prime minister said the Labor Government, when it was in power, used Infrastructure Australia to its advantage to make wise planning decisions.

“When Labor Government took power, Australia was 20th in the OECD for infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP,” Albanese recalled. “When we left, Australia was 1st.”

While the budget for roads was doubled under Rudd/Gillard/Rudd, that government also rebuilt more than a third of the national freight rail network, Albanese said, with $3.4 billion spent on 4000km of track.

“One outcome of our investments is that by 2016, the average trip from Brisbane to Melbourne will have been shortened by seven hours,” he said. “The journey from the nation’s east to west coasts will have been reduced by nine hours.”

Albanese praised recent decisions by Woolworths and Australia Post to move some of their freight to rail.

“That’s highly significant,” he said. “There will always be a role for moving freight by road. But when we move freight on to efficient, properly maintained rail systems, we make the roads safer and we reduce carbon emissions.”

Albanese said the former Labor Government’s propensity towards rail projects was triggered by analysis from Infrastructure Australia; analysis which – Albanese believes – the Abbott Government doesn’t follow closely enough.

“I am deeply concerned that the current government is drifting away from the Infrastructure Australia model,” Albanese said.

“Despite pre-election promises that it would adhere to, and indeed strengthen, the model, the current government appears to have succumbed to political temptation and is drifting away from transparency and evidence-based policy making.”

He said the worst example of this is the Government’s $3 billon commitment to the (now shelved) East-West Link in Melbourne, to which it committed $1.5 billion in advanced funding in its 2014 Budget.

“It did this without Infrastructure Australia having seen a cost-benefit analysis, let alone having approved the project,” Albanese said.

“As those of you who live in Melbourne know, the project was at the very centre of November’s state election campaign.

“After the election, documents released by the incoming Andrews Government showed that the project had a benefit-cost ratio of only 0.45. That’s a paltry return of only 45 cents in the dollar.”

Albanese said the government’s decision to fund East-West Link over other projects – including the Melbourne Metro Rail Project – was therefore not a good one.

“In this case, proper process went out the window along with common sense and respect for taxpayers,” he said.

“The last thing this nation needs is political parties fighting election campaigns on the basis of the delivery of major infrastructure projects that have not undergone independent scrutiny.

“Only the facts can empower voters to make informed judgements about what politicians say in the heat of electoral battle.”

Albanese also questioned the Government’s decision to fund Sydney’s WestConnex road project, which he said had also been questioned in recent months.

Inland Rail

Inland Rail tenders open

Deputy prime minister and minister for infrastructure and transport Warren Truss has opened the tender process for engineering design and environmental services contracts for the proposed Inland Rail project set to link Brisbane and Melbourne.

It’s the first round of tenders Inland Rail, a project which Truss called ‘iconic’ prior to the tenders’ launch on March 7.

“Inland Rail is a game-changer,” the deputy PM said.

“It is vital infrastructure that will boost capacity and productivity along the country’s fastest growth freight corridor.

“It is a critical investment in jobs, growth and future prosperity, as well as a boost for the regional areas along, and around, its route.”

Truss said he thinks the rail line will “transform” freight movements through south east Queensland, across regional New South Wales and rural Victoria, resulting in national efficiency increases.

“We know Australia’s freight task will double by 2030 and triple along the eastern seaboard,” Truss said.

“Inland Rail will connect key production areas in Queensland, NSW and Victoria with export ports in Brisbane and Melbourne, with linkages to Sydney and Perth, boosting regional economic growth and driving national productivity.”

The first round of tenders concerns planning for some of the key segments of the Parkes to Narromine and Narrabri to North Star sections of the proposed lines.

“The Australian Government has committed $300 million to commence work on the Inland Rail project. These tenders are a clear demonstration that real progress is being made and that we are delivering against our commitment.

“I have charged the Australian Rail Track Corporation with developing a 10-year delivery plan for Inland Rail and appointed former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson to head the Inland Rail Implementation Group, to oversee that work.

“We’re getting on with the job of delivering world-class infrastructure that secures Australia’s transport needs well into the future, while creating jobs, economic growth and opportunity for all Australians.”

Truss said regional suppliers will benefit throughout the 10-year delivery of the project, with any successful tenderer required to demonstrate regional participation.

“When complete, Inland Rail will deliver a road-competitive freight rail service from Melbourne to Brisbane via regional hubs in three states that will make a huge contribution to meeting Australia’s freight challenge,” he said.

Warren Truss

Albo asks, Truss answers: New IA chief named

Infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss has named the new chief executive of Infrastructure Australia, a fortnight on from his opposition minister, Anthony Albanese, questioning why the government body had been without a formal leader for over 12 months.

Truss named Philip Davies as the new chief executive officer of IA on March 5.

Davies, currently the leader of AECOM’s infrastructure advisory practice for Asia Pacific, will take over as chief executive in April from acting chief Stephen Alchin, who himself replaced John Fitzgerald in the acting role.

Fitzgerald was hired as acting CEO following the departure of former head Michael Deegan, who left IA in February 2014 to join South Australia’s Planning, Transport and Infrastructure Department.

A year on from Deegan’s departure, former (and now shadow) minister for transport and infrastructure Anthony Albanese asked why no formal replacement for Deegan had been announced.

“It is extraordinary that more than 12 months later there is still no head of Infrastructure Australia,” Albanese said on February 17.

“While Mr Truss has dithered over appointing a new head of Infrastructure Australia, Tony Abbott has recklessly ignored accountability by funding a range of new road projects without cost-benefit analysis – a direct breach of his explicit election promises.”

Just over two weeks on from Albanese’s comments, on March 5, Truss announced Davies as chief executive of IA, relieving Alchin from the acting role.

“Mr Davies is an expert in infrastructure and transport planning,” Truss said.

“The government has reformed the governance of Infrastructure Australia to free it of the ministerial meddling which abounded under the previous Labor Government to make it a truly independent board.”

Truss is calling Davies the ‘inaugural’ chief executive of IA. Deegan was known as the ‘IA coordinator’ during his tender. In mid-2014 the Infrastructure Australia Act was amended to create an independent board which could appoint its own CEO.

“Under the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments Infrastructure Australia was not allowed to appoint its own CEO,” Truss said.

“Worse still, the then infrastructure coordinator reported solely to the [infrastructure] minister… never to an independent board.”

Prior to his current role at AECOM, Davies was an executive at Transport for London. He has previously advised the federal government on high speed rail, and has also advised state governments on various transport projects.

As well as leaving AECOM, Davies will conclude his roles as board member of Infrastructure Partnerships Australia and for the Committee for Sydney.

“Mr Davies is a highly qualified engineer and infrastructure expert and has valuable experience in both the public and private sectors,” IA chairman Mark Birrell said.

Davies said he was excited to work in a role which would help “shape the long term plan for Australia’s infrastructure”.

“We can develop the evidence base to support the investment priorities for nationally significant infrastructure,” he added.

Aurizon’s December quarter down on 2013

Queensland-based rail operator Aurizon has announced a 2% decline in rail volumes in the December 2014 quarter.

Aurizon told the ASX last week that it handled 54.8 million tonnes of coal in the last three months of 2014, down from 56.2 million tonnes in the same quarter of 2013.

Haulage in Queensland was down 2% to 43.8 million tonnes, and haulage in NSW was down 4% to 11 million tonnes, according to the operator.

There was an 11% reduction in net tonne kilometres (NTKs) for Aurizon in its NSW coal business, and a 3% reduction in Queensland NTKs.

Aurizon’s smaller iron ore handling business saw a 22% year-on-year decline to 6.1 million tonnes handled, and the company enjoyed a modest increase in freight volumes.

“[Queensland] volumes of 43.8mt represent a 2% decrease compared to the pcp, reflecting the closure of Peabody’s Wilkie Creek mine in December2013 and the end of Rio Tinto’s Hail Creek contract in October 2013,” the company explained.

“If we removed the impact of these two customers, growth would have been flat.”

A number of operational incidents also contributed to the softer performance, including a fatal motor vehicle accident in October 2014 which impacted crew availability on the Blackwater network.

‘Near miss’ videos aim to shock

British Transport Police has made waves online with its new YouTube series featuring near misses around rail level crossings in the UK, as part of a new campaign to raise awareness to the dangers of rail.

‘Operation Look’ is the BTP’s program aimed at reducing the amount of accidents and near misses that occur every year at level crossings in Britain.

BTP’s YouTube channel has received thousands of views so far this week, as it has uploaded a number of videos from CCTV and other cameras, which have captured nearly catastrophic near-misses at rail crossings.

The series can be viewed here.

Also as part of Operation Look, BTP officers will be carrying out additional high-visibility patrols at a number of locations this week, but it’s BTP’s YouTube channel which is getting more attention.

During 2014, 337 motorists failed to obey warning lights or lowering barriers at level crossings in Scotland alone – where the BTP is focusing its awareness operation.

“Many of these drivers had got into the habit of deliberately misusing crossings, with figures showing people of all ages willing to risk their lives to shave a few minutes off their journey,” BTP said.

BTP’s inspector Becky Warren said: “All too often people get into the habit of taking risks at crossings and our message is simple. Use crossings safely.

“It may be tempting to jump a light to shave a minute or two off your journey, but every time you do, you endanger your life and the lives of other road and rail users. Fail to obey the signals and you may also end up with a driving ban or a criminal record. Is it really worth the risk?”

“Level crossings create a risk for people that we want to remove. Where possible we close them, and we have already closed more than 900 in the past five years,” said Darren Furness, head of level crossings for Network Rail, which is joining BTP in the awareness campaign.

“Those we cannot close we aim to make safer and awareness events like these mean we can meet and talk to motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about the dangers and how to stay safe.”