The milestone, achieved yesterday, followed recent pre-commissioning tests of the new rail spur with four activists arrested for interfering with this activity on Monday.
The first train-load of Maules Creek export coal was initially expected in March, while a couple of weeks ago it was expected to occur in January.
“Railing first coal less than a year from when construction started is a fantastic outcome and I congratulate all those involved in this very successful project,” Whitehaven managing director and CEO Paul Flynn said.
“Maules Creek is already having a substantial positive economic impact on local towns, the region more broadly and the state as a whole.”
The 68%-complete construction phase has employed up to 600 full time staff so far. Flynn said about 450 fulltime positions required for the operational workforce will be hired from the local Gunnedah/Narrabri region.
The open cut project is targeting a rate of 6 million tonnes per annum run of mine over the first year of operations with 2.5Mtpa of capacity expected by late June.
“It is likely that Maules Creek will be declared fully commercial from July 1, 2015,”¬ Whitehaven said.
Total capital expenditure is still expected to fall below the $767 million budget.
“Major construction components which remain in progress include the erection of the coal handling preparation plant, provision of permanent power, product coal stockyards and workshops,” the Gunnedah basin miner said.
“The CHPP (coal handling and preparation plant) is due to be completed before the end of May 2015 and at that time it is expected to be the last of the major infrastructure components to be completed.”
The early phase of mining at Maules Creek has provided enough information to review cost estimates and revise mine plans.
Last year the strip ratio expected was 6.4:1 – and this has since been scaled down to 5.8:1 over the first five years of mining.
Cash operating costs (excluding royalties) were previously expected to be $A62.5 a tonne with Whitehaven since revising this to $62/t for the 2015-2016 financial year.
However, costs over the first five years of mine life are expected to be in the range of A$63/t to $64/t as the metallurgical coal proportion increases.
On the production mix, about 10-15% of the mine’s sales are expected to be metallurgical coal in the 2015-2016 financial year.
“Sales of metallurgical coal are forecast to increase by about 10% per year until production reaches a 50:50 split between thermal coal and metallurgical coal,” Whitehaven said.
The large mining project already has approval to ramp up to 13Mtpa ROM.
“Orders for the ultra-class equipment needed to expand production to 8.5Mtpa ROM coal have been placed and their delivery is expected in late 2015,” Whitehaven said.
“Financing for the expansion has been sourced on terms similar to the initial fleet.”