Track to the Future

Track to the Future

Few would argue the importance of Australia’s resources industry as a contributor to this country’s economic success. Iron ore alone is responsible for $45.5billion in direct output, of which 92% comes from Western Australia*.

So, it should be no surprise that the industry is the largest user of freight rail, spending an estimated $1.5 billion on rail transport per year, with Pilbara iron ore making up 62% of the national rail freight tonnage.

An efficient and effective pit to port railway network is essential. And while new infrastructure is designed and constructed with smart technology to capture data and streamline maintenance operations, what about the existing 3,000+km of network in place? How do you manage the maintenance and renewal of some of the biggest and oldest iron ore rail networks and associated infrastructure in the world? Networks that are exposed to extremely high rail volumes and axle loads in harsh and unwelcoming environments?

The answer lies in transitioning traditional track maintenance and renewals from the standard reactive delivery model to one that is collaborative and preventative, achieving the client’s goals. Implementing predictive management is integral to delivering a more cost-effective solution.

Increasing proactivity to reduce reactivity

“Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress,
and working together is success.” Henry Ford

Traditionally heavy haul track maintenance and renewal occurs when different branches of the network deteriorate and start flashing their warning signals. The resources are allocated, the subsections are fixed, and the immediate problem of keeping some of the world's heaviest loads and longest trains moving is addressed. But this approach only provides the quickest fix to a specific track section. It doesn’t provide the most cost-effective or output efficient one for the whole railway system and network.

Increasingly, resources companies are recognising that a well-developed track renewal program, that upgrades the whole railway systematically through a proactive approach to rail renewal activities is essential for maximum returns. This is especially true with the introduction of automated heavy-haul transport.

Calibre has been working with a major resources company on their automated train system for the past decade. The next stage of the partnership sees Calibre provide engineering, design and consultancy services for a specific track renewal program that outlines a proactive track and renewal upgrade of the rail network. As Calibre’s Principal Track Engineer, Ognjan Rakic explains, “Working and operating in the Pilbara comes with its own set of challenges, unlike any I’ve come across anywhere else in the world. Having a 5-year plan, that outlines specific renewals for certain sections, allows efficient resourcing and scheduling to occur, leading to cost savings over the life of the project.”

Keeping the A-team together

Temporary speed restrictions are the bane of any heavy-haul network and unplanned disruptions impact both the production and bottom line of the operation. A proactive approach to track maintenance and renewals aim to systematically identify and resolve rail problems across the network before they happen. For new rail projects, it’s taking the key issues and operational risks identified during the design process and working collaboratively to ensure they are mitigated. For existing rail projects, it’s having access to the technology and resources that can obtain the required data, with both cost and time efficiency.

Because servicing heavy haul track is resource-heavy at any one time, it requires drawing expertise from geotechnical, environment, surveying, design, procurement, construction, maintenance and operations. Given the limited time frames available to implement solutions, an integrated team is essential for success. The better the data, the better the resourcing. Having a systematic approach to track maintenance and renewal helps keep the A-team together.

Whether it's engineering or operations, systematically planned track maintenance and renewals allow the design, construction and/or maintenance team to work together through all project phases, successfully achieving project goals and milestones. An integrated A-team allocated to the renewal program allows quick transition from one section to another, reducing the time and cost associated with mobilisation and demobilisation.

A consistent team also allows for a smoother transition when replacing or adding new members, and the ever-critical, historical information is retained with greater efficiency. Overall, there’s a greater understanding of the aim of the program and the complexities involved. The team is well organised, well planned and the dedicated resources (from both sides of the table) are working together to support each other, invested in positive project outcomes.

"For the Calibre team, this means there’s a greater degree of trust that develops with our clients, allowing the ideas to flow and innovation to occur. It is an environment where our specialists look at the problem, think outside of the box and find answers that have not been used historically. It is all about collaboration and building the broader team's capability and confidence across all projects,” said Ognjan Rakic

Proactive resourcing for positive programming

Competing work priorities and projects can leave a company without their top operators across all disciplines, affecting the project plans and goals. Having a systematic approach keeps resources together and further builds the team as they constantly share their knowledge and technology. There’s a consistent platform for continual training and skills uptake across the project.

Overall, Calibres ability to build an effective and efficient team allows for a better working relationship. Both client and contractor are working collaboratively to master the complexities of track maintenance and renewals, supporting each other while delivering the best outcomes for the program.

* All data from Australasian Rail Association ‘Value of Rail 2020’ Report


For more information contact Nigel Johnson - Head of Mining & Resources or Ognjan Rakic - Principal Engineer, Rail.

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