Staff at the mine this week commissioned and began operating the hydraulic monitor - a high-pressure water cannon used to extract coal from the face and sluice it down to the underground pump station where it is sized and brought out of the mine either in a slurry pipeline or on conveyor belts.
Solid Energy South Island Operations general manager Simon Doig said the mine start-up was an important milestone for Solid Energy (51%) and its joint venture partner, Cargill.
"Over the last 12 months geology has continued to be a major challenge but Spring Creek's management team and workforce have undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that we arrived at this point within budget and on target," Doig said.
"This mine has a strong future, with up to 20 years of production, and the coal is attracting strong interest from steelmakers.
"To accelerate the mine's further development and ensure production targets are met we have begun a recruitment campaign in the UK. We have had a good response to our advertising there and a small team is travelling to Sheffield in mid-January to interview experienced underground mine workers and tradespeople."
As well as creating 4km of new underground roadways and equipment bays, the development project at Spring Creek has involved a major upgrade of the coal washery at Rocky Creek; construction of a high-voltage substation; upgrades and repositioning of underground electrical, pumping and coal screening equipment; an upgrade of the high-pressure water, water-treatment and conveyor systems; and construction of a new surface screen.
To ensure the pace of roadway development is maintained, a new roadheader and automated bolting rigs are on order.