Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Police target rail protestors

Police have formed Strike Force Tuohy as they continue proactive operations to actively prevent and disrupt illegal protests throughout NSW’s Hunter Valley rail freight network. 

Newcastle City Police District and Police Transport Command have been dealing with ongoing protest activity which has affected commuter and coal trains. 

Actions have included the placement of a car on the lines and protestors suspending themselves above the tracks in scaffolding or from power poles: moves slammed by the railway sector for not only putting the safety of train crews in great peril, but also forcing the cancellation of vital coal, and containerised grain and cotton services.   

Officers have arrested almost 30 people, who have been charged with various trespass and rail disruption offences.  

One of them, a 22-year-old serial climate activist, was this week sentenced to 12 months in prison for his part in the blockade . He will serve at least six months in jail. 

Officers attached to Strike Force Tuohy will continue carrying out proactive patrols and targeting anyone engaging in suspicious behaviour. 

Members of Police Rescue, Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, Public Order and Riot Squad and PolAir, as well as intelligence resources, will also assist as required. 

Police and Emergency Services Minister, David Elliott, said police have increased security and surveillance along the rail corridor to prevent further disruption to commuter and freight trains in the area. 

“This government will not tolerate protestors undermining commuter activities and causing significant damage to these local industries which employ people from across the region,” he said. 

Northern Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Peter McKenna, said police were targeting protestors as a priority and their activities would not be accepted. 

“The actions of this group and individuals involved are placing lives at risk,” he said. 

“Illegally entering rail corridors and expecting trains that are over 1.5km in length to stop for people placing themselves in front of them is outrageous and incredibly dangerous behaviour. 

“We will continue to use the full force of the law to locate and arrest any persons involved in this criminal activity.” 

Police will continue to work with Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) and other members of the coal supply network to prevent further disruptions. 

Additional security, surveillance and lighting have also been instigated at high-risk access points. 

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Coal Train Photo Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator

Maintenance of Hunter network a reminder of level crossing safety

Level crossings in the Hunter network are undergoing maintenance to improve safety for trains and motorists.

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is carrying out the works during a shutdown of the network from Newcastle to Ulan and Turrawan.

From September 22 to 25, 1,000 workers will conduct 500 maintenance jobs not limited to level crossings. These will include upgrading 3,500 metres of track, replacing 13,200 metres of rail, and regularly scheduled maintenance activities.

ARTC General Executive Hunter Valley Network Wayne Johnson said the level crossing work was in addition to regular maintenance.

“In the upcoming rail shutdown, in addition to our regular maintenance work, level crossings will be getting some special attention with tamping being carried out on 34 level crossings,” he said.

“A tamping machine is used to pack (or tamp) the track ballast under railway tracks to make the tracks more durable. The base of the level crossing is replaced and stabilised to improve the geometry of the track and this also helps improve the surface so vehicles will experience a smoother ride as a result.

“Tamping the levels crossings allows safer access across the railway crossings for vehicle traffic.”

Level crossings, of which only 21 per cent nationally are active, are a critical safety concern for the rail industry, and Johnson warned motorists of the consequences of not driving safely near level crossings.

“Tragically, every year too many people lose their lives in level crossing collisions, while there are more than 1,000 ‘near misses’ each year – the difference between a fatal collision and a near collision can be just seconds,” he said.

“With a bumper grain season ahead, we can expect high volumes of freight trains coming from the central areas of the state, so people need to be vigilant with level crossings in the regional parts of New South Wales.”

Maintenance is expected to finish on September 25.

ARTC details benefits of longer coal trains in Hunter Valley

The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) has detailed plans to improve coal train capacity in the Hunter Valley region of New South Wales.

The combined strategy of longer trains and trains that can run closer together is intended to increase capacity, boosting productivity and efficiency for coal mining companies in the region that are reliant on the route. The Hunter Valley coal chain feeds coal to busy export terminals at Port Waratah and Newcastle.

Train length in the Hunter Valley is limited to 1,543 metres at present, but the ARTC stated in a report that increasing train lengths could be “a potentially effective mechanism to increase capacity when implemented in a systematic manner”.

The plans form the backbone of the ARTC’s 2019 Hunter Valley Corridor Capacity Strategy, which looks at ways to provide capacity to meet contracted coal volumes in line with the ARTC Hunter Valley Access Undertaking (HVAU).

“ARTC is continuing to review options for longer trains, and is currently undertaking engineering investigations,” read the report.

“Further modelling will be required to validate capacity impacts and opportunities.

“Subject to the findings of the engineering investigations, ARTC will develop business case assessments of the costs and benefits of providing necessary infrastructure enhancements.”

The ARTC points to in-house technologies such as the ARTC Network Control Optimisation (ANCO) project and Advanced Train Management System (ATMS) as ways to offer significant improvements in efficiency by increasing the use of existing assets through digitisation for a relatively low cost, in keeping with the preference of thermal coal producers.

The ARTC also advised that empty trains travelling on single track sections be allowed to travel at 100km/h. Trains with 120-tonne capacity wagons are currently permitted to run at 60km/h when loaded and 80km/h when empty.

The group said that it would work with operators to undertake analysis and risk assessment to determine the viability of this speed increase.