Rail Express spoke with GE Transportation, a division of Wabtec Corporation, about its work with Roy Hill in the Pilbara.
When you set up a $10 billion mining operation complete with 344-kilometre railroad and bespoke port facility, that investment needs to start paying back in quick order.
Indeed, every efficiency, every saving and productivity boost counts at Roy Hill’s operations in the Pilbara, chaired by Gina Rinehart. What a difference a consistently, evenly loaded, remotecontrolled train makes.
The Roy Hill Remote Operations Centre in Perth runs a model railway. Completed in 2015, the railroad with its state-of-the-art rolling stock carries millions of tonnes of iron ore – blasted across eight pits, crushed, graded and blended at Roy Hill – from the mine to Port Hedland, where it is shipped to international markets.
In 2018, Roy Hill hit its nameplate goal – 55 million tonnes shipped. The strategies and technologies that enabled Roy Hill to ramp up to this run rate, and continue to increase production to a 60 million tonnes per annum run rate, are complex.
But senior executives agree that a collaborative relationship with Wabtec Corporation’s GE Transportation division – the manufacturers of Roy Hill’s ES44ACi locomotives and the integrated LOCOTROL remotely operated tower control system that goes with them – has helped drive greater value from the Roy Hill railroad.
“Back in the early days we aimed for five trains a day,” Roy Hill chief operating officer, Gerhard Veldsman said. Each train is almost two kilometres in length, consisting of two rakes comprising 116 cars each, with two locomotives at the front and another two locomotives between the rakes. At first, the average load of the cars was 138 tonnes.
Ore-carrying railways have until recently required an engineer driver to inch the ore cars painstakingly under the loading chutes, at a pace of around 0.2 to 0.5 kilometres an hour, but Roy Hill commenced its operations with the LOCOTROL tower control system. This extension of the LOCOTROL Distributed Power system allows the driver to leave the locomotive at the load-out point, and the LOCOTROL tower control system automatically carries out the loading, which on Roy Hill-length trains can take up to three hours.
“The train comes in, the system logs the loco numbers and it goes into remote control mode. Positioning sensors on either side of the chute spot the gaps in the ore cars, and the system automatically opens and closes the chute to fill each ore car,” Veldsman explained.
From the start, the LOCOTROL tower control system has allowed Roy Hill to utilise crews more efficiently rather than locally manage the load-out process. The greatest benefit has been the ability to smooth the variability in tonnes loaded per car due to the automation of the process.
Roy Hill and Wabtec have collaborated to hone the system such that, “When you look at a fully loaded train out in the yard the tops of the wagons look like they’ve been planned flat,” Veldsman said. “It’s a good indication of how steady the loading process is. When you get a lumpy ore car, you know there’s been a problem.”
Having the load spread evenly throughout each car also allows the train to be driven more consistently. Veldsman explained, “A smooth load across the bogie sets enhances a train’s ability to efficiently brake and handle curves when travelling.”
Consistent loading enabled by the LOCOTROL Remote Operator Control system has helped Roy Hill’s railway team to increase the number of cars per rake to 118 (236 cars per train), loaded to 142 tonnes each. Train frequency has gradually increased from the initial 5 trains every 24 hours, to 5.5 or 6 trains on average.
Another significant benefit that Roy Hill has attained by using the LOCOTROL tower control system is the ability to remotely drive the train at the mine that is some 1600 km away from Roy Hill’s Remote Operations Center in Perth.
In resource ventures that pre-date Roy Hill, operators sat in towers at each mine site. At Roy Hill, the crews that run 24-hour remote train load out operations sit in the comfort of the Perth Remote Operations Centre, and return to their homes at the end of their shifts. This allows Roy Hill employees to spend more time with their families and enables Roy Hill to attract and retain the best people in the industry.
As a result of improved working conditions, said Veldsman, “We haven’t had any turnover in the train-control system in three years.”
The executive team at Roy Hill is contemplating other applications of the LOCOTROL tower control system: to potentially assist load-out efficiency at the Port end of the track; or to control the “train in waiting” for loading. “We’re happy to collaborate with Wabtec regarding the technicalities and see if further efficiencies can be realised,” Veldsman says. He confirms the strong, collaborative working relationship Roy Hill has with Wabtec, and says Roy Hill’s role as a test bed for the research and development of the LOCOTROL tower control system has benefited the industry as a whole.
“It’s great that we’ve come up with several changes in software that Wabtec has recognised as good ideas and rolled out universally. As well as being good from a Roy Hill operational point of view, it’s helped improve the product for all industry users.”
“Wabtec sincerely values the collaborative relationship we have with Roy Hill and are thrilled to be a part of their ongoing success,” GE Transportation executive leader in Australia Claire Pierce adds.
Visit Wabtec at AusRAIL PLUS at Stand 232.