Railway design a runaway success

Judges have awarded a Certificate of Merit to Rio Tinto Iron Ore's Lang Hancock Railway (LHR) in Western Australia's Pilbara region in the recently held Golden Gecko Awards.

Judges have awarded a Certificate of Merit to Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s Lang Hancock Railway (LHR) in Western Australia’s Pilbara region at the recent Golden Gecko Awards.

The Golden Gecko Awards are coordinated by Western Australian Department of Industry and Resources (DoIR) to promote environmental excellence within the State’s resources industry.

A panel of government departments, industry and conservation representatives judged entrants on criteria including commitment to environmental excellence and the level of community engagement.

The Hope Downs railway was assessed through a Public Environmental Review for Hancock Prospecting in 2002.

However, the opportunity arose to connect the Hope Downs mine to the existing Pilbara Iron rail network when Rio Tinto became a 50-50 joint venture partner in the project.

The railway was first used in December 2007 and fully commissioned by March 2008.

Key stakeholders in the project were consulted including the Department of Environment and Conservation, and five traditional owner groups.

The information provided through the consultation process was incorporated into a sustainable development methodology applied to determine the best alignment.

Each route option was assessed against economic, social and environmental criteria.

There are key Mulga woodland communities and research areas in proximity to the Lang Hancock Railway route which were identified and avoided.

The Mulga is an important woody perennial in arid Australia and is said to be poorly understood.

Railway corridors also have the potential to affect local water flow regimes, which can affect surrounding vegetation.

The railway has also been designed to minimise the impact on local physical and biological processes, such as surface water flow and drainage.

Smaller ‘environmental culverts’ were incorporated into the railway’s design to minimise impacts on natural drainage and sheet flow patterns.

The management and rehabilitation of borrow pits was another key aspect of the project.

Each borrow pit area was selected to preferentially use pre-disturbed areas, avoid priority species, avoid potential weed sources and ensure the final structure would be free draining with a low erosion potential.

A management plan was developed for each borrow pit and each was progressively rehabilitated.

According to the Golden Gecko Awards, this comprehensive approach to minimise environmental impacts from a major infrastructure project is an example of a best practice methodology in terms of route selection, engineering design, and borrow pit management and rehabilitation.

Rio Tinto’s annual iron ore capacity in the Pilbara is being advanced towards 200 million tonnes, with an increase to 320 million tonnes capacity now scheduled for 2012.

“It is encouraging to see that awareness of environmental sustainability within the West Australian mining and petroleum sectors continues to grow in line with production growth,” DoIR’s Director-General Anne Nolan said.

The Lang Hancock Railway project’s environmental advisor Bronwyn Bell said that their award submission focussed on a number of important areas.

“We used sustainable development principles for selecting the route for our railway. We were also able to use clever engineering to protect the Mulga shrub populations and make our cleared areas blend with their surroundings – returning them to their natural vegetation.”

Key contact:

Rio Tinto Iron Ore

08 9327 2000



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