The Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is testing the viability of longer coal trains capable of running closer together through the Hunter Valley.
Its plans were released via the ARTC’s 2019 Hunter Valley Corridor Capacity strategy, which revealed trains were clogging up the region’s network, preventing mining companies from maximising transport efficiency.
This occurred because a higher number of train sets were in use than the “theoretical efficient fleet”, leading to an increased requirement for trains to be parked-up.
The Hunter Valley rail network forms a crucial part of the world’s largest export supply chain, consisting of a dedicated double track ‘coal line’ between Port Waratah and Maitland.
It also includes a shared double track line from Maitland to Muswellbrook in the upper Hunter Valley and a shared single track with passing loops that point north and west.
Almost all export coal shipped through Newcastle is transported by rail across this network for shipping from Carrington (Port Waratah) or one of the two terminals on Kooragang Island.
Capacity issues coincided with derailments along the network, which forced coal to be stockpiled at the beginning and end of the Uline line, leading to increased demand for a long section in the middle to be used.
The strategy has detailed the introduction of data processing that would allow the digitisation of train planning and a communication system between trains allowing them to run closer together.
Speed changes have also been advised by the ARTC, with recommendations to increase the speed on single track sections of empty trains to 100 kilometres per hour.
The ARTC has proposed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the capacity and efficiency of the rail line, despite strong opposition from environmental groups.
The strategy has received criticism given its prediction that coal volumes are expected to decline in the region from 2023.