Heavy haul railways address a booming market
As the world's experts in heavy haul technology gather in Rio de Janeiro for the 8th IHHA Conference on June 14-16, China's insatiable demand for iron and steel is driving the pace of development on the world's heavy haul railways. Operators of iron ore lines on three continents are moving swiftly to raise capacity
Chief Executive, International Heavy Haul Association
AFTER decades of stagnation, the iron and steel industry is riding high. The rich deposits of iron ore in Brazil, Australia and South Africa are being mined at record rates, and in India there are moves to expand iron ore production in Orissa. Driving these developments is China, where insatiable demand from steel producers is forcing the pace of iron ore production across the globe.
Heavy haul railways form a key link in the steel production process, carrying huge tonnages of ore between mines and ports. In every case, operators are striving to raise capacity to meet rising demand, while similar developments are evident on coal railways where demand is also related to steel production.
CVRD, Rio Tinto and the Anglo-Australian group BHP Billiton produce more than 50% of the world's iron ore exports, and their total output will be not far short of 400 million tonnes this year, rising perhaps to 600 million tonnes by 2008. This has massive implications for the IHHA's member railways.
Iron ore prices everywhere are rising spectacularly. Earlier this year Rio Tinto and CVRD secured a price increase of 71·5% for ore from steel mills in Japan and Europe. This will rapidly translate into additional funds for new facilities, with ports, mines and railways set to benefit - investment is already at unprecedented levels, with a completely new railway planned by Fortescue Metals Group in Australia's Pilbara region (p330).
This is the exciting background to the 8th International Heavy Haul Conference being held in Brazil on June 14-16. While delegates assembling in Rio de Janeiro will debate safety, the environment and productivity, the issue of raising capacity will feature in formal presentations and informal debate.
To meet demand, the rail operators are ensuring that no avenue is left unexplored in the search for higher productivity of staff and assets. BHP Billiton Iron Ore Railroad in the Pilbara has succeeded in cutting locomotive cycle times to 23·6h, down from 30·3h in fiscal 2000. The company is working hard to eliminate any event that may interrupt the iron ore production process, and it has made good progress with attempts to 'engineer out' broken rails through strict management of track quality. Whereas there were 49 broken rails during 2000 when 60 million wet tonnes of ore were hauled, the figure for 2004 was just 23, with 89 million wet tonnes carried. Measures to improve rail quality include carrying out welding at night during the hot months. A mobile flash-butt welding unit was joined by a second in December last year, and the company has recently acquired a 48-stone rail grinder from Speno.
Average payload per wagon rose from 107 tonnes in 1996 to 115·6 tonnes in 2004, and the next target is 117 tonnes. The company owned 3051 ore wagons in 2004, and this is to increase to 3750 in the future. The latest wagons are built to an aerodynamic design to reduce fuel consumption, a major consideration as oil prices rise. Other elements of a strategy to cut fuel consumption include higher axleloads and longer trains, a better wheel-rail profile and training drivers to exploit every opportunity for fuel savings.
In the future BHP Billiton's ore wagons may include some components sourced from China under a reciprocal trade agreement. In the meantime spectacular progress has been made in increasing the life of wheels and rail. Whereas in 1980 a wheel lasted for 0·34 million tonne-km, the 2004 figure was 1·7 million. Similar dramatic progress is visible with rail, with a life of 350 million gross tonnes in 1980 eclipsed by the figure of 1800 million gross tonnes in 2004.
The 'technology enablers' that lie behind these improvements can also be found on North America's heavy haul railways. Better wagon design with lower weights and higher payloads are a key element, while CP Rail has developed low-stress wheel profiles and friction management of the rail head (RG 3.04 p144). BHP Billiton and its fellow heavy haul operators know that meticulous management of the wheel-rail interface is essential to smooth operations.
In South Africa, where the gauge is 1067mm, plans are in hand to raise capacity on the 560 km Richard's Bay line from 69 to 86 million tonnes a year. On the 861 km Sishen - Saldanha iron ore route, which retains its unique 50 kV electrification, ore traffic is set to rise strongly above the current annual tonnage of 27 million. Last August, Spoornet successfully tested a 'mega train' 3·9 km long carrying a payload of 34 200 tonnes, pointing the way ahead.
Elsewhere, the railways in Russia and China are working to raise train weights. Coal in China now represents 44·3% of rail freight traffic, and CR operated its first 20000 tonne train recently (RG 5.05 p252), part of a plan to increase tonnage over the Datong - Qinhuangdao line. Opened in 1992, the 653 km line carried 103 million tonnes in 2002, and the figure for 2004 was 150 million. This year's target is 200 million tonnes, with operations being stepped up to permit 60 round trips a day. CR expects to adopt ECP braking, with high-strength rotary couplers used on the latest wagons to allow train weights and lengths to be increased.
Chinese Railways is researching 30 tonne axleloads, and this is also a long-term target for parts of the Russian network, with 25 to 27 tonnes as an intermediate step. Train weights are to rise from 9000 to 12000 tonnes, and locomotives are envisaged with an output per axle of 1200 to 1300 kW as part of a drive to increase the speed of freight trains to 100 km/h.
- CAPTION: Cutting-edge research has helped the iron ore railways of Western Australia's Pilbara region to become some of the most efficient operators in the world Photo:John Kirk
- CAPTION: Co-host of the congress is Brazilian iron mining company CVRD, which is currently expanding the capacity of its broad-gauge Carajas Railroad
- CAPTION: As with iron ore, the world market for coal is booming, putting pressure on heavy haul railways in China and Australia, where Queensland Rail is investing in additional capacity (p333)
Heavy haul railways address the booming market
As the world's experts in heavy haul technology gather in Rio de Janeiro for the Eighth IHHA Conference on June 14-16, China's insatiable demand for iron and steel is driving the pace of development on the world's heavy haul railways. Operators of iron ore lines on three continents are moving swiftly to raise capacity by expanding wagon and loco fleets, increasing axleloads and cutting mine-to-port cycle times. At the same time, managing assets to achieve higher productivity is essential - areas for attention include meticulous management of the wheel-rail interface.
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