INTRO: With coal from central Queensland in demand from over 30 countries, QR is investing to raise throughput on its busy heavy haul routes linking mines and ports

DISCUSSION about the environmental problems caused by burning fossil fuels is not exactly taboo at Queensland Railways’ Coal & Minerals Group, but it’s getting pretty close. Demand for the high quality ’black gold’ from the rich seams at Blair Athol and other mines in Central Queensland is rising fast, with Japan taking the lion’s share. More than 30 other states are buying coal from Queensland to feed their power stations and blast furnaces. To keep pace with this rapidly growing demand, QR is devoting considerable resources to upgrade the busy coal corridors to cope with even heavier traffic.

Expansion is also the watchword at the twin deep-water coal terminals of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay near Mackay. Both are installing new stackers and stacker-reclaimers to sort, store and feed up to 6000 tonnes of coal an hour to the ships which queue for attention in the azure waters off the coast.

A second shiploader is being installed at Dalrymple Bay, and this will be fed by an additional conveyor along the 3 km jetty between the stacks and the ship loadout. When the expansion programme is finished, Dalrymple Bay will be able to handle 45 million tonnes of coal a year, but the immediate target is for both ports to handle a combined total of 60 million tonnes a year by 2000.

Faster unloading

Two years ago a second bottom dump unloading track was installed at Dalrymple Bay, in theory allowing two trains to unload simultaneously. In practice, this is still rare as the terminal is not yet configured for maximum capacity. Trains to Dalrymple Bay use bottom dump wagons, while those to Hay Point are formed of rotary dump tipplers; the trains are split into two to be moved through the tippler by an hydraulic arm. Early next year one of the Hay Point tipplers will be replaced by a bottom-dump facility. This will cut the unloading time by perhaps 20min to around 1h 30min and avoid the need to split the train.

With different types of wagon required for each port and several kinds of coal in demand, sometimes for a single ship, QR and the terminal operators are constantly juggling with the logistics problems. Graham Featherstone, QR’s Operations Manager, Coal & Minerals, says his objective is ’to keep all the trains moving all of the time, and faster’. He manages a fleet of 17 unit trains in the Goonyella System which are worked under CTC from Mackay; most are formed of five locos with 120 wagons of 90 or 104 tonnes, with the Hay Point train comprising four locos and 140 wagons of 71 tonnes. Another three trains of four diesel locos and 72 wagons operate on the Newlands line.

The five-loco trains have two leading and three mid-train slave units controlled from a Locotrol vehicle. Featherstone says these vehicles will be removed as second generation Locotrol equipment is fitted to the locos, allowing the payload to be increased.

No effort is spared to save weight on the wagons, and on a build of 400 104-tonne bottom-dump wagons soon to be delivered the four sets of steps fitted on older wagons will be dropped. When this fleet is in service, QR will scrap its remaining 71 tonne coal wagons, which Featherstone says have seen over 25 years in service.

Trains typically carry around 10000 tonnes - and as many as 26 trainloads are needed to fill the hold of ships such as BHP’s Iron Pacific.

Keeping the trains moving

Watching the trains ease past at Jilalan, site of a yard and workshops between the hills and the coast, Featherstone keeps a keen eye open for anything that might delay them. Time really is money in the QR coal business, and Featherstone’s team has contractual requirements to ship out 1 million tonnes a week.

On the circuits to Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay, trains undergo a physical examination at Jilalan on each round trip. For the moment this is carried out by human eyes, but video or other scanning devices may be installed one day. While the train is halted, sand is topped up on the locos, the crew toilets are emptied and the windscreens cleaned.

Under a new traincrew agreement, drivers now sand and clean their own locos. The agreement provides for trains to operate in driver-only mode on the short haul between Jilalan and the ports, and the unions have agreed in principle to extend DOO from Jilalan to Coppabella .

Every 10 trips each train is halted for a full examination of all running equipment, and every 16 weeks all wagons in a train are sent through the workshops at Jilalan for preventative maintenance.

Most trains now run at a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Maximum speed for loaded trains on the steep descent from Hatfield to Yukan is 40 km/h.

More mines to open

There is no sign of demand for the Queensland coal falling off. Featherstone says ’new mines are coming on stream all the time’, for example at Hail Creek, where a new loadout is to begin operation in 2000. Further north, new diesel locos are on order for the lines from Newlands and McNaughton to the port of Abbot Point, which are expected to handle 7·2 million tonnes of coal this year.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the prospect of developing coal seams in the Surat basin, where Featherstone says there ’is as much coal again as in the Bowen basin’. A private sector package involving mines, power stations and other industrial development is currently out to tender. If the project goes ahead, a a new line could be built between the railheads at Moura and Wandoan, with new mines opened up at Theodore and in the Taroom area. The coal would then be railed north to Gladstone, where further capacity expansion would be needed. o

CAPTION: A pair of QR’s 25 kV electric locos, with three more mid-train, eases 10000 tonnes of coal towards the Pacific Ocean

CAPTION: Swing-nose crossing on concrete sleepers being laid to replace conventional pointwork in the yard at Yukan; others have already been installed (far right)

CAPTION: Left: One of the unloading roads at Hay Point will be converted for bottom-dump wagons next year

Right: Reballasting work under way last November on the steep grade down the range between Hatfield and Yukan

CAPTION: QR’s coal flows to the Pacific ports. The Blair Athol - Hay Point and Emerald - Rockhampton - Gladstone routes are electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz