Railroad infrastructure, which bring about greater freight capabilities and more direct routes, is key to the economic sustainability of mining operations. And so, planning and design have to be implemented meticulously.
The development of reliable rail infrastructure for the transportation of heavy bulk materials to the point where they are needed is vital to the economic viability of mining operations. However, in some cases the real transport infrastructure component can be more costly than the mine, notes, Bill Hjelholt, director of freight rail at HDR in Ontario, who has previously worked with Aurecon in mining railroad projects globally.
Furthermore, he says, amongst three major cost factors in mining such as transport, processing and extraction, transport can be the highest. That is why the planning, design and construction process of railroad infrastructure development projects have to be carried out meticulously with no stones left unturned.
In his discussion on vital elements on Planning, Design and Construction of Mining Railroads, he highlights key elements in the planning, design and construction of mining railroads to ensure that mines can achieve cost savings through transport. “Transport is often the cost with the greatest opportunity for improved efficiency (cost reduction),” Hjelholt says.
There are a number of factors during planning that mining houses can consider to get more value from rail infrastructure, mainly the configuration of the resource railroad, cost of capital. Most importantly they have to be cognisant that planning is not a linear process.
- Determining the configuration of a resource railroad
They following should be vital aspects when determining the configuration of a resource railroad:
- Metric tonnes per annum – initial and expansion
- Distance to be hauled
- Density of a product
- Interchanges (other railroads/running rights; ports)
Capital is an important factor in mine planning, states Hjelholt. “How a railroad is planned and designed has a major impact on the trade-off between capital cost for fixed infrastructure, equipment, and operating costs.”
- Planning not a linear process
Planning a railroad infrastructure project is a not linear process, and variables have to be accommodated. Based on this, “It is important to make a series of assumptions and then proceed to challenge them.
Build a model, test it, change it, and repeat as the design progress,” Hjelholt stresses.
- Understanding the entire logistics system
Another point to note during the planning stage is that a railroad is only a component of a logistics system. Understanding the entire logistics system is key to optimising the performance of the railroad. The railroad systems comprises of the following: Production, Stockyard, Car-loading, Transport, Car dumping, Stockyard and Shiploading.
- Other critical areas
The other critical areas that have to be factored in include: tonnage & rolling stock requirements, track speed & geometry, train length and axle loads, and track length calculation.
By and large, railroad infrastructure, which bring about greater freight capabilities and more direct routes, is key to the economic sustainability of mining operations. And so, planning and design have to be done meticulously – no stone should be left unturned in the aforementioned areas.