The move is a blow for Whitehaven which has only just ironed out longwall automation problems and was attempting to gear up production to 65 cutting hours per week.
Whitehaven managing director Tony Haggarty said the track closure did not affect its open cut operations or Gunnedah coal handling and preparation plant but did preclude rail transport of coal from the Narrabri underground mine to the port of Newcastle.
“We do not have capacity at Gunnedah CHPP to handle all Narrabri coal, however, short-term trucking would reduce the impact of the rail closure and allow production at the Narrabri mine to continue while the track repairs are completed,” he said.
“Other actions, including rescheduling of required longwall maintenance at Narrabri, reconfiguration of stockpile facilities, maximising coal deliveries from the open cut operations and optimising shipping schedules, are also being put in place.”
Haggarty said longwall operator skills at Narrabri were improving and Caterpillar/Bucyrus would be supporting until the longwall reached design performance.
Trucking was only being considered as an interim measure and any approval would be short-term, he said.
“Like all rail users affected by the track closure, Whitehaven is reviewing all options available to minimise the impact of the closure on its operations,” he said.
“The options include seeking approval for temporary trucking of coal from the Narrabri mine to the rail load-out at our coal handling and preparation plant at Gunnedah.
“We do not currently have approval to truck coal from the Narrabri mine, even in special circumstances, and any approval to do so will need to be managed through the NSW state government process and local government and will include traffic and other assessments.”
The train derailment occurred on November 28 and the Australian Rail Track Corporation advised Whitehaven that track damage caused by the derailment was unlikely to be restored within the next 12-15 days.
No date has yet been forecast by ARTC for completion of repairs to the track and bridge and investigations are still underway into the cause of the incident.