HOW TO HANDLE more, heavier and longer trains without compromising reliability was high up the agenda at the International Heavy Haul Association's Specialist Technical Session in Kiruna on June 10-13.

Around 350 delegates from 26 countries assembled in the Swedish town where LKAB's iron ore mine towers over the landscape. Outgoing IHHA President Thomas Nordmark noted that many companies were buying motive power and rolling stock with matching investment in track and infrastructure. For once, 'cost savings were a kind of second priority', he said.

But he was concerned that railways were not keeping pace with rapid developments in the mining and processing industries. 'Railways are so old-fashioned', he said, warning that they needed to take steps to modernise using computer-aided train operation, for example. Some could dispense with timetables, he suggested, as the communications tools now existed to run efficiently on the basis of demand.

Many heavy haul railways are geared to supplying iron ore and other minerals to China, so it should come as no surprise that the next conference will be held in Shanghai in June 2009. IHHA plans to unveil a best practice handbook on track technology at the event, where delegates can expect to learn at first hand about Chinese Railways' experience in transforming the Da-Qin coal line into a high technology operation now handling 80 trains a day. According to Guo Wei Wang of the China Railway Society, the line carried 250 million gross tonnes in 2006, with 300 million tonnes expected during 2007. This is similar to the tonnage now being railed out of the Powder River Basin in the USA.

Delegates in Kiruna showed particular interest in the latest lessons to emerge from North America where the widespread use of 131 tonne wagons has generated a range of problems. Semih Kalay, Vice-President, Research & Technology, at TTCI, noted that cracked wheels were costing the industry US$24m a year with derailments caused by thermal cracks and shattered rims. This was being tackled by new wayside inspection systems and the development of better steel alloys for wheels - companies involved include Standard Steel, Lucchini, Valdunes, Smorgon, Sumitomo and Griffin Wheel.

A prototype cracked wheel inspection system under development with Dapco has been installed at Pueblo, but at present can only check the wheels on one side of the train. The wheels ride on their flanges as the train passes the detector at 8 km/h, exposing the tread for inspection.

The number of broken axles in North America has also risen in the last five years at a cost to the industry of US$15m. Laser-based cracked axle detectors are being dev-eloped, and Kalay said 'an operating system will be in place by the end of the year'.

Better rail flaw inspection equipment is also making progress, and a trial installation developed by Tecnogamma and TTCI is due to be commissioned by the end of 2007. This uses laser scanning to examine both sides of the rail from a hi-rail vehicle running at 20 mile/h.

All this is geared to what Mike Roney of Canadian Pacific Railway termed 'the no surprises railway', with problems found and dealt with before they cause disruption. Summing up, Roney said delegates had learned how to 'make sharp curves behave like mild curves, how to make long trains drive like short trains, and how to control friction and waste less energy'.

  • CAPTION: IHHA delegates were able to inspect the Bombardier-built IORE locomotives at LKAB's Kiruna workshops