RailGallery_20151124_018Over the last decade, Australia’s heavy haul rail operators have been world-leading champions of the AusRAIL 2016 theme ‘Rail – Moving the economy forward’. The current drop in commodity prices has only tested their skills and resilience with rail operators, suppliers and manufacturers continuing to be flexible and lead the world in innovation, advanced technology and the products to provide a competitive and efficient service.
Australasian Railway Association CEO, Danny Broad joined us to share his observations on the opportunities and challenges ahead for this world-class industry that plays a vital role in Australia’s employment, research, manufacturing and local industry supply chains.

What are some of the ways that Australia leads the world in heavy haul rail?
Australia’s heavy haul coal and iron ore rail operators are world leaders in terms of capability, efficiency and innovation.
In the Pilbara, the Hunter Valley and the Bowen Basin, Australia’s heavy haul operators are recognised as leading the world in the application of new technology to stretch their assets for maximum safe performance and delivery.
In the Pilbara some of world’s longest trains operate hauling iron ore to port.
FMG are testing the boundaries of heavy axle loads exceeding 40 tonne.
Rio Tinto are working towards driverless trains in their iron ore operations in the Pilbara.
BHP Iron Ore set the record for the longest train to ever run in the world – this train is officially in the Guinness book of world records for the longest train. The record was set on June 21, 2001 in Western Australia between Newman and Port Hedland, a distance of 275km and the train consisted of 682 loaded iron ore wagons and 8 GE AC6000 locomotives giving a gross weight of almost 100,000 tonnes and moved 82,262 tonnes of ore – the train was 7.353 km  long. BHP iron ore did this to test locotrol which is where locomotives are evenly placed along the length of the train. The locotrol setup was 2 locos-166 wagons, 2 locos-168 wagons, 2 locos-168 wagons, 1 loco-180 wagons then the last locomotive on the back. This very long train is controlled by only one driver.
How has the Australian rail sector been impacted by shifts in the commodity markets?
The reduction in commodity pricing has resulted in the heavy haulers increasing the efficiency of their operations, driving costs down and implementing new technology to achieve maximum performance from their assets.
Total iron ore shipments at Port Hedland increased in March 2016 to 39.53 tonne from 36.63 million tonnes in February. This eclipses the previous high of 39.4 million tonnes set in September 2015. Exports to China increased to 32.6 million tonnes in the same period.
What role does rail play in creating value for this sector? 
Rail provides the most efficient means to haul bulk materials from mine to port – these trains are state of the art in terms of the tonnages they haul while providing improved environmental benefits and safer outcomes.
The issue of ‘jobs and growth’ was much discussed during the recent Federal Election campaign. How can Government support the Australian rail suppliers and manufacturers?
Governments, both Federal and State, can support the Australian rail suppliers and manufacturers by collaboratively working together to commit to a smoothed long-term pipeline of projects while also focusing on greater harmonisation of standards, regulations and procurement practices across all rail sectors. A report developed by Deloittes in 2013 for the ARA indicated substantial savings for the industry from such an approach.
ARA_Australian-Rail-Suppliers_Info-SheetIt is pleasing to see the Victorian Government leading a push for local content in manufactured rolling stock in order to strengthen the rail manufacturing industry, grow employment as well as significantly developing the local industry supply chain.
As the voice of the rail industry, what do you believe are some of the key indicators that will shape the heavy haul rail industry in 2016 and beyond?
As commodity prices vary and worldwide demand for coal and iron ore changes, heavy haul rail operators will have to continue to be flexible and innovative further to provide a competitive offering while maximising efficiency.
Danny Broad will be providing an industry update at the ARA Heavy Haul Rail conference in Mackay on the 24 & 25 August 2016. ARA Members receive a special 20% discount to attend.
For more details, including a list things to see in Mackay after the Heavy Haul Rail conference,visit the website www.informa.com.au/hhr 
Photo credits: Aurizon & Tourism and Events Queensland