On track: Helping miners drive down rail costs

In a vast country like Australia, railways are crucial to almost every heavy-haul mining operation. Loram offers a range of solutions to help miners get the most life out of their railway infrastructure. Australian Mining reports.

Rail is a vital link in the supply chain for mining operations. Elevating the rail operation while driving down the costs is a consistent target of mining companies to assist in maximising the transport efficiency and its economic viability.

Railway maintenance specialist, Loram Maintenance of Way has serviced Australian railways for over 50 years. The global company recently expanded its Brisbane-headquartered Australian subsidiary, Loram. 

This organisation offers solutions with a comprehensive range of rail maintenance equipment and services to the likes of BHP, ARTC, Aurizon and Fortescue Metals Group.

A global company with a range of specialised rail maintenance equipment, Loram is best known as the world leader for rail grinding services and equipment. 

Rail grinding is an activity to facilitate the restoration of target rail profiles, removal of fatigued metal, and the control or removal of rail defects. Rail grinding is the cornerstone of most railway maintenance programs with the purpose to significantly extend the rail life and improve the wheel rail interaction.

Loram increased the scale of its rail grinding operations in Australia after acquiring Aurizon’s rail grinding business and its fleet of Loram rail grinders in late 2019.

Thomas Smith, Loram’s director of business development, says mining companies can financially benefit from implementing best practices in railway maintenance, including rail grinding and friction management programs.

“When the trains have high tonnage axle loads, the rail can incur significant damage, making frequent rail and wheel replacements a costly business,” Smith says.

“With proper rail grinding, the rail head profiles can be maintained or restored, resulting in extended rail life and improved wheel-rail interaction. This in turn prevents premature rail failures and improves fuel efficiency.”

Smith elaborates on the benefits of rail grinding by citing an example from one of Loram’s recent projects.

“The Fortescue railway in Western Australia runs 42-tonne axle loads, which is amongst the highest axle loads of any railway in the world,” he explains.

“Carrying such high axle-loads can cause serious fatigue and damage to the rail. Using Loram’s rail grinders on a tonnage-based preventative cycle to maintain the target profile and remove the fatigued steel, we were able to extend the life of the rails by up to three times in tangent tracks and up to 10 times in curves.

“This gave the customer a huge return on their investment by helping to reduce rail defects and the frequency of rail replacement.”

A firm foundation for railroad performance

For railroads to meet their revenue and growth objectives, it’s increasingly vital to maintain high-performing infrastructure. 

Ensuring a firm foundation across the railroad system is paramount to protecting the performance of the track and the operational effectiveness of the railroad itself. 

Strategic solutions for proper ballast maintenance and reliable drainage are key to maintaining this important structural foundation. 

Another product line Loram is offering for its Australian operations is its ballast and drainage maintenance solutions that help maintain, clean and promote well-drained ballast foundation.

Loram’s LRV is a powerful rail mounted specialty excavation machine.


This includes its shoulder ballast cleaner, full section undercutter, high production ditching and specialty excavating with its high-powered rail bound vacuum excavation equipment (LRV). 

Although a ballast has many functions, there are two main applications in its interaction with track work structures.

First, ballast provides resistance against rail movements while distributing the applied load with diminished unit pressure to the subgrade beneath. The second important function of the ballast is to provide drainage.

“Infrastructure integrity is critical to the routine and growth objectives of the railways. Poor ballast conditions will jeopardise the safety and reliability of the rail system” Smith explains.

“Over time the ballast wears down under heavy loads from the trains, as well as from tamping and other maintenance activity. 

“The ballast section becomes contaminated or fouled with these ballast fines, as well as infiltration of coal and iron ore from the wagons, mud pumping from the subgrade and wind-blown sand and dirt.

“As moisture and the fine aggregates combine, the drainage is impacted, and the ballast begins to lose its ability to provide stability to the track.”

Brazilian iron ore and freight rail company, MRS Logistica, had years of contamination build up in its bridges and tunnels, with speed restrictions on the trains.

“The tunnels had become full of mud as a result of ballast degradation and iron ore fines from the wagons.  After comparing multiple options against one another, and with the clearance restrictions eliminating traditional equipment as an option, MRS chose Loram’s LRV specialty excavator with Loram’s material handling wagons to solve the problem,” says Smith.

Loram’s LRV is a powerful rail mounted specialty excavation machine that removes material through mechanical agitation and airflow.

The combination of a strong manipulator arm and powerful vacuum pumps makes the LRV capable of excavating compacted ballast, clay, mud, water, sand and soil.

“The Loram LRV is designed to travel at high track speeds, while towing fully loaded material handling wagons. This means the LRV can travel quickly to the work zone and continuously off-load the excavated material into the material handling wagons,” Smith says.

The latest contract that MRS awarded Loram follows the successful completion of a similar project in 2012, when MRS had sought Loram’s help for rehabilitating special track works.

Using Loram’s LRV, MRS was able to completely clean out and rehab multi-kilometres of tunnels and bridges that had previously only been manually maintained or improvised with temporary measures to keep trains running.

Using the LRV also meant that MRS would require far fewer people sent into the tunnels, thus improving safety. The end result found water rushing from the tunnel and speed restrictions removed.   

According to Smith, the adaptability of LRV vacuum nozzle enables it to reach otherwise hard-to-reach areas for traditional equipment.   

Excavating in areas without damaging buried cables and yard cleanup of ore, coal and grain adds to the types of work where this powerful machine is applied. 

“The LRV is also very versatile in handling the waste material,” Smith continues.

“It can store the material onboard, dispose of the material onto the right of way on either side of track centre or transfer the material directly to a material handling wagon.”

Through all of its rail maintenance equipment and services, be it in rail grinding, ballast maintenance or material handling services, Smith says Loram brings a partnership approach to optimise the track performance and reduce the overall cost of rail ownership for customers.

“Just like our rail grinding services that are aimed at improving the rail’s life, our ballast maintenance services are also aimed at creating better drainage to help stabilise the track so that the track performs more efficiently,” he says.

“In all of the equipment that we utilise and all of the services that we provide we only aim at one thing – and that is to rationalise our customers’ return and manage their infrastructure at the highest level.”

This article also appears in the May edition of Australian Mining.

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