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.

 

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.

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.

‘Pave over the tracks’, think tank says

A British think tank has suggested commuters could pay 40% less for their journeys if the UK government ripped up some railways and replaced them with dedicated bus roads.

The Institute of Economic Affairs this week released a report, ‘Paving over the tracks: a better use of Britain’s railways?’

“The reluctance of policy makers to consider more efficient forms of public transport has led to expensive fares and sardine-like conditions for commuters across the country,” the IEA said on Tuesday.

According to the IEA’s report, above-ground commuter railways transport a quarter of a million passengers into London during the morning peak hour.

That works out to about 10,000 commuters per track, “many of whom have to stand during their journey”, the IEA said.

“150 express coaches, each seating 75 individuals would be able to carry the same number of commuters while occupying one seventh of the capacity of a one-lane busway, of a similar width to that required by a train,” the IEA said.

The British think tank said the busways could offer comparable, if not shorter travel times, and could do so at a cheaper cost than existing railways.

The IEA said rail had received a “disproportional” amount of funding compared to alternate modes of transport, and that this needed to be fixed.

“Individuals in the UK are far more likely to travel by car than train, with 90% of passengers and 70% of freight traffic carried by roads,” the group said. “Despite this disparity, state funding of railways is just 30% lower than that spent on roads.”

Report co-author and IEA transport head Dr Richard Wellings said politicians were to blame.

“Ongoing interference by politicians in the rail industry has led to everyone getting a raw deal,” Wellings said.

“Passengers face increasingly expensive fares only to fight their way onto trains during peak times and taxpayers continue to prop up an industry whose importance to the country is disproportionally small relative to the level of resources it receives.

“Adopting more efficient methods of transport could offer considerable benefits to passengers and the taxpayer alike. But only when the sector is liberalised from rigid state control, will we see such alternatives being seriously considered.”

The report can be viewed here.

 

5 most important storylines from Queensland election

The scrapping of government plans to help fund a proposed shared railway through Queensland’s resource-rich Galilee Basin is just one of the major storylines for rail and resources industry to monitor in the fallout of Queensland’s election.

Shared Galilee infrastructure on knife’s edge

Campbell Newman’s plans to set aside a portion of taxpayers’ money for the development of a shared rail line and associated infrastructure through the Galilee is on the ropes, with its future dependent on the balance of power in parliament.

Prior to the election Newman said a re-elected LNP Government would work to provide miners in the Galilee Basin with a shared rail line that would connect their proposed mining projects with Abbot Point, or another export facility, on the coast.

The now ex-premier said his party would provide at least some of the funds for the development of that infrastructure.

But Annastacia Palaszczuk, leader of the opposition going into the election, and likely the next premier of Queensland, is against the funding.

Palaszczuk said in the lead-up to Sunday’s election that Galilee miners should have to be viable to succeed without government support, and that such financial assistance for a shared piece of infrastructure would not come from a Labor Government.

However, without a majority in parliament, Labor would need to ally itself with smaller parties and independents.

Katter’s Australia Party, led by Rob Katter – the son of polarising former federal politician Bob Katter – could be key to Labor getting its policies through parliament, should the party not hold the majority vote.

At time of writing (with roughly 85% of all votes counted), predictions have Labor winning 44 or 45 seats. With 45, the party would have all the power it needs to get its legislation through parliament.

But with just 44 seats, Labor would need to ally itself with Katter’s party (2 seats), or Nicklin independent Peter Wellington (1 seat), or with all three seats, to form a majority vote.

If Labor holds 44 seats after the election, and the LNP holds 42, however, the LNP could strike a deal with Katter’s party and the independent Wellington, giving it the 45 voting seats it needs to have its way in parliament.

If the LNP holds the balance of power, it could still go through with its plans for the Galilee. And experts are predicting that in order to strike a deal with Katter’s party, Labor might have to commit to a similar level of funding for the Galilee project.

Recognising 40 years of railway innovation

Australia’s premier applied research centre in railway technology last week celebrated four decades of innovative solutions in mining and commuter rail systems.

A Celebration of 40 Years of Railway Research andTechnology was held last Thursday at the Park Hyatt, Melbourne, to celebrate the 40 years of railway research and technology by Monash University’s Institute of Railway Technology (IRT).

Originally part of research activities undertaken for the companies now known as BHP Billiton Iron Ore and Rio Tinto Iron Ore, IRT is now an applied research centre at Monash University. It provides technical assistance to the world’s three biggest iron ore producers, BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Vale (Brazil), and more than 90 other railway entities, including leading commuter rail authorities.

IRT, which has clients in several countries, specialises in providing comprehensive solutions to technical issues in existing rail systems, whether they transport iron ore, freight or commuters. IRT is also a leader in remotely monitoring tracks and rolling stock using cutting-edge technology to detect faults before catastrophic failures occur.

Monash University’s senior deputy vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor (research) Professor Edwina Cornish, congratulated IRT on leading the Australian railway technology field for four decades.

“The Institute of Railway Technology is a great example of how universities and industry can collaborate to develop solutions that drive technology forward,” Prof Cornish said.

“IRT was born out of industry need and now real-world problems continue to drive its agenda.”

Director of IRT, Ravi Ravitharan, said the institute was set to build on its success.

“IRT is continuously developing new technologies to support increasing productivity and safety requirements of the rail industry,” Ravitharan said.

“Being part of Australia’s largest university, IRT is well-placed to continue to lead the railway research and technology needs of the rejuvenated railway industry.”

The Victorian minister for public transport Terry Mulder, delivered the keynote address at the gala dinner and general manager of infrastructure at the Hong Kong rail authority MTR, Richard Keefe, and rail engineering manager at Rio Tinto Iron Ore, Leland LeBreton, both long term clients of IRT, also spoke at the event.

Heavy Haul Rail
28th – 29th August 2012 | Newcastle City Hall
www.informa.com.au/heavyhaulrail