Digging out your resources is all well and good, but if you can’t transport it, it is just an expensive rock.
Infrastructure and transport really is the last ace in the hole in mining.
And all mining companies are looking to increase their capacity at their mines and ports.
In particular, iron ore miners are trying to harness the current massive demand from China for their resource.
This is why Siemens has developed and consistently updated a rail freight system for a Pilbara based iron ore mine since 2007, so that the miner can efficiently supply this demand.
The challenge Siemens faced was to increase rail capacity and throughput; integrate a complete mine-rail-port supply chain system; and manage and control rail freight operations and scheduling.
So the technology company designed, installed and maintains the Rail Technology System (RTS) to solve these problems.
While the original system was installed in 2007 for the iron ore miner, it has since been continually updated to provide an online rail time monitoring and scheduling of its Pilbara rail infrastructure.
The underlying program in RTS is the Vicos (Vehicle and Infrastructure Control and Operating System) OC system which links the miner’s pit and port operations and supply chain management system to provide the operator with greater control of rail freight movements.
It is comprised of three integrated elements – a traffic control system; an online scheduling system; and a train information management system.
The traffic control system allows operators to control rail freight movement throughout the entire system and provides train tracking, monitoring, manual and automatic route setting and blocking as well as alarm management facilities.
Vicos also allows for the integration of different applications and allows relay and electronic interlockings to be operated in a standard and easy manner irrespective of the manufacturer involved.
It also uses standard hardware, meaning that it is easily adaptable to future computer generations.
One of the most recent additions to the RTS infrastructure by Siemens was the Falko system.
The Falko system has a number of automatic functions including GPS train tracking, as well as route setting, train control, timetable management and dispatching.
Siemens senior research Matt Sunberg told Australian Mining that Falko provides an optimised planning and dispatch system that works in real time and allowed for an additional train to run on the miner’s rails, increasing it to 13 trains per day.
He went on to say that Siemens is currently in the process of testing it online so that it not only monitors the freight system in real time, but can also write the train schedules as well as adapt and make changes if the situation changes.
The system’s real time GPS positioning system allows the operator to refine the incoming data and lets them follow freight movements and changes in the situation.
Sunberg said this GPS tracking also provides greater cover for the rail maintenance crews, which increases safety as both they and the train drivers can now know where each other are at all times, reducing the likelihood of an accident.
This is a crucial measure as in recent years there have been a number of accidents, particularly in the Hunter, where maintenance crews working on rail infrastructure were unaware of oncoming trains until it was nearly upon them.
Only last year, a rail worker was killed in a situation such as this.
On top of this increased worker safety aspect, the system also continually monitors the infrastructure itself and measures wear and tear on the lines, allowing for predictive and preventative maintenance.
Sunberg went on to say that a major aspect of this updated system is its ability to write and adapt train schedules.
"This is a major saving in time as writing schedules and having to change them in the case of an incident, such as the Queensland floods, takes a lot of time to do," he said.
The Falko system also reduces energy consumption as the timetables produced enables time reserves and power on the line to be optimally distributed across the infrastructure to ensure effective vehicle runs.
Sunberg explained that if the train infrastructure went electric, the ‘energy saving system’ would provide unique power utilisation facilities.
"It uses the scheduling to effectively spread energy across the entire system, so if a train is braking then another train can use that energy to then accelerate; it is essentially a regeneration of energy.
"This reduces the miner’s carbon footprint," he said.
There are currently plans to install this system in new Queensland coal rail infrastructure.