[AU] A report from down-under: AURIZON Coal at Gladstone

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AURIZON owns and operates one of the world’s largest coal rail networks, linking approximately 50 mines with three major ports in Queensland and transports over 200 million tons of coal a year.

By P. Trippi, reports from Gladstone QLD/Australia. All photos by author.

AURIZON is Australia’s largest rail freight operator but with a bigger cost cutting program ahead. Today it has four major product lines for customers: Network, Coal, Bulk, and Intermodal. The company also provides a range of specialist services in rail business. It operates with approximate 500 active locomotives and 13,000 wagons. The company’s name AURIZON was a rebranding of former QR National end of 2012. The latter brand was established in the 2004/05 financial year when Queensland Rail’s (QR) coal, bulk and containerized business units were brought under one banner. It was privatized and listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in November 2010. In 2012 QR National received a 99-year lease over the 2,600 km Queensland coal network.

Still in QR National livery E40AC 3835 leads a 13.100 t coal train towards Gladstone. Dutson/QLD 17.08.2017
On the driver secondary screen the three locomotives show up as FMB (Front Middle Back) or ABC. Aurizon 3817 in the “Eagle” livery at middle position near Mount Larcom/QLD, 17.08.2017.

The Blackwater Coal Rail System is one of four systems in AURIZON’s Central Queensland Coal Network (CQCN):

  • Blackwater system based around the Port of Gladstone, which is the largest route length of the four coal systems
  • Goonyella system based around the Port of Hay Point and Dalrymple Bay
  • Moura line to the Port of Gladstone
  • Newlands line to Port of Abbot Point

A total of 15 coalmines are served by the Blackwater System. The main line joins the North Coast Railway, just south of Rockhampton, where the coal travels south to port facilities near Gladstone. All systems are based on narrow gauge 1.067 mm. Australia’s infrastructure goes back to the time of British colonies (now Australian States). In 1865 Queensland opted for narrow gauge to save money.  Other colonies choose standard or even broad gauge tracks. In 1997, the 160 km/h Electric Tilt Train from Brisbane to Rockhampton became the fastest narrow gauge train. 2013 the Queensland State Government tried to offer incentives to mining companies in an attempt to encourage to standard rail gauge, but to no avail.

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AURIZON 3839 makes the back of an empty coal consist out of RG Tanna Coal Terminal at Gladstone, 18.08.2017.
Downhill braking E40AC 3833 near Marmor/QLD on 17.08.2017: Energy feedback into the catenary system provides energy savings per year and thus help significantly reduce CO2 emissions on Central Queensland Coal Network.

AURIZON operates Class 3700 and 3800 Bo’Bo’Bo – electric locomotives at their coal systems. In March 2003 a contract was awarded to Siemens Mobility for the rebuilding of three Class 3200 into Class 3700 locomotives as prototypes for a proposed rebuild of the entire class. The work was undertaken at United Group, Townsville. The 3100/3200 are electric locomotives built by Comeng with Hitachi supplying the electrical equipment. Two separate classes were built between 1986 and 1989, 19 Class 3100 command units that could lead trains, and 67 Class 3200 slave units. AURIZON COAL operates today 63 locally refurbished Class 3700, equipped with AC traction motors and distributed power locotrol system. In March 2006 Queensland Rail awarded a contract of twenty new Class 3800 locomotives to Siemens (internal design E40AC). The mechanical design of the carbody and bogies is new. Its electrical traction system is based on standard components and the proven design of QR Class 3700 locomotives. In 2007 QR increased the order to 45 units. With a continuous tractive effort of 450 kN, the E40AC locomotive is the highest powered narrow gauge electric locomotive in the world.

3744, a refurbished 3200, heads 102 full coal wagons near Mount Larcom/QLD 17.08.2017: 52 in the first set and 50 in the second, altogether 13.100 tons.
The Central Queensland Coal Network (CQCN) is based on a narrow gauge 1.067 mm network of 2600 km. E40AC 3731 with an empty near Mount Larcom/QLD 17.08.2017

The business model of AURIZON gets a bigger reshaping in the near future: In 2016/17 AURIZON has posted a full-year loss of $188 million on the back of a $927 million hit from asset impairments and redundancy-related costs. It also suffered an $89 million turnover loss, almost 10% of total turnover, from the impacts of Cyclone Debbie in March 2017. A year before it lost a tender to buy Glencore Rail, which went to US rail operator Genesee & Wyoming. Next downturn: North West Star Glencore didn’t renew, on too high costs reasons, its existing contract with AURIZON to haul mine inputs and outputs for Glencore’s mines in Mount Isa. The contract ended in January 2017. To trim its costs AURIZON will stop its 245.000 tonnes of bulk sugar operation for Wilmar Sugar end of 2017. It also announced in August 2017 to sell its Queensland intermodal business to competitor PACIFIC NATIONAL and Linfox and close all intermodal services in other States. It decided to cut the workforce 2016/18 by about 1000 employees out of 6870 positions, affecting alone 180 workers when closing the historic maintenance shops at Rockhampton.

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AURIZON 2831 in actual “Pineapple” livery heads at Bororen/QLD, 16.08.2017, an intermodal container consist to Brisbane. Soon this operation is ceased due to heavy losses in this business.
Pacific National Queensland’s PN010 hauls a container train near Archer/QLD 17.08.2017. PNQ will take over AURIZON intermodal business.

You want to know more about these powerful E40AC machines down-under? Exactly 100 units were built for three customers. The complete overview can be found on Railcolor.net