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Hunter Valley: Efficiency, Reliability & Performance

Our Hunter Valley network remains an integral component of ARTC’s nation-wide rail operations.

We continue to build on our service offering to the Hunter Valley coal chain – the world’s largest thermal coal export operation – by providing an increasingly efficient rail transportation system between mines and the Port of Newcastle.

We managed the movement of around 250 trains per day on our Hunter Valley network, with around half of these being coal trains. The other half comprised of passenger services, as well as grain, general intermodal and other bulk freight trains.

We employ around 500 people in the Hunter Valley, who continued to maintain the safe and increasingly efficient operation of the network. This was achieved through ongoing network and supply chain coordination, engineering, major maintenance and other critical projects that further increased the network’s capacity to meet growth in rail traffic across all logistics modes.

Safety first across the network

The Hunter Valley team upheld its commitment to safety this year through a range of initiatives, including:

  • Safe Work Interaction Program – Implemented the company-wide program to support leaders engage in conversations with field workers about risks to safety and wellbeing. Ten sessions were held in July 2019, with additional sessions conducted across the year resulting in more than 150 leaders being trained in safe work interactions. The program has led to a steady increase in safe work interactions across the Business Unit, with more than 1,250 conversations held.
  • Risk reduction strategies implemented – Safe working measures to better capture worker roles and responsibilities were implemented, including:
  • Electronic Track Access Protection (eTAP) – The Hunter Valley team implemented ARTC’s new eTAP application to improve safety controls and reduce risk for track workers and communication between protection officers and network controllers.
  • Corridor Job Number (CJN) – CJNs were implemented on the Hunter Valley coal network in October 2019 and represent a step-change in ARTC’s ability to ensure visibility and control over all corridor activity. Crucially, CJNs address any unauthorised access to further enhance safety for our people, contractors and the community. All access to the Hunter Valley coal network now requires a CJN.
  • Increased effectiveness in hazard identification – In accordance with ARTC’s Pathway to Zero safety strategy, we streamlined the way hazards are reported through a simple form, allowing teams to improve their focus on controlling risks, while providing data to improve visibility and to help identify trends. Since its introduction in June 2019, there has been a significant increase in hazard reporting across the Hunter Valley.
  • Level crossing actions implemented – As part of ARTC’s Level Crossing Strategy, the Hunter Valley team undertook engineering re-assessments for the majority of level crossings to ensure they remain safe for road and rail users.
  • Motor vehicle measures reduce driving risks – Supported by the installation of GPS monitoring in light vehicles, increased visibility of driver behaviours resulted from ongoing implementation of ARTC’s Motor Vehicle Strategy. Crucially, there was a steady decrease in exceptions related to fatigue, speeding and the use of seatbelts.
  • Chain of responsibility – Vehicle loading and heavy vehicle driver training has supported chain of responsibility changes and ensured that both ARTC and our drivers meet requirements, including recording of trips, fatigue management and travel. Load restraint training has further allowed teams to confirm that the vehicle and equipment they are using is fit for purpose.

During the year, the Hunter Valley team also achieved two major safety milestones: 1,000 days Lost Time Injury-free (LTI), and 12 months Medically Treated Injury-free (MTI) to reflect the continued strong safety culture across the business.

Protecting our environment

In accordance with ARTC’s Environmental Policy, the Hunter Valley implemented the following environmental measures during the year:

  • Ecomapping – Completion of accurate mapping of existing vegetation within the rail corridor/buffer land, applying risk ratings based on legislative protections. This reliable identification of on-ground vegetation is now accessible to all staff for inclusion in environmental impact assessments.
  • Sustainability Advantage – As a member of the NSW Government’s Sustainability Advantage program, the Hunter Valley team continues to implement its Sustainability Strategy.
  • Management of land contamination liabilities – A plan for remediation and validation activities was approved in conjunction with Transport for NSW. Also, following remediation activities at a residential property in Werris Creek in FY19, additional remediation activities were completed at the property this year.

Engaging our local communities

The Hunter Valley team continued to work closely with local communities to communicate projects and support local initiatives, including:

  • Track work notifications – Provided details of planned track work and contact information through our community notification newsletters.
  • Reputation survey – Following research undertaken by independent research firm Colmar Brunton in October 2019, developed approaches to improve how we involve and consult with local communities, including the Muswellbrook bridges replacement project, which was the first REF-determined project to be publicly displayed for comment.
  • AgQuip (October 2019) – one of the world’s largest agricultural field days.
  • Christmas gifts to drought-affected farmers – Our Muswellbrook team worked with the PCYC to deliver gifts to local farming families affected by drought.
  • Fundraising for Maitland Hospital – Frontline team fundraising initiative enabled the hospital to purchase a computerised spirometry testing unit, which measures the rate of air flow and estimates the lung size of children.
  • Variety Bash – members of our Network Control team participated to help raise money for Variety the Children’s Charity, and in turn, support schools in remote areas.
  • Lifeline support – Provided funding assistance to Lifeline to help it continue to provide its suicide prevention and counselling services to people in the local region.
  • Landcare – After providing grants to 29 local schools in 2018-19, continued to support schools deliver environmental programs and promote rail safety awareness for primary school aged children in precincts near the operating rail network.

Customer focus drives efficiency and service

During the year, the Hunter Valley team continued to achieve for its customers by delivering further service reliability and efficiency improvements for rail operators, including:

  • Movement Planner via ANCO – Committed to reducing train cycle times, increasing the utilisation of existing infrastructure and further improving the quality and transparency of network performance for customers through the implementation of Movement Planner, as part of the ARTC Network Control Optimisation (ANCO) program. The combined deliverables are enabling the advancement of broader supply chain maturity and enhanced collaboration among stakeholders to maximise operational solutions.
  • Network integration efficiencies – Continued to streamline the planning and coordination of synchronised activities across the network in conjunction with holistic supply chain activities, leading to more effective time for maintenance while preserving capacity.
  • Passenger train services – In partnership with NSW TrainLink, we implemented safety initiatives and maintained our strong focus on the punctuality and reliability of passenger services into north-west NSW, including support of a trial to introduce two additional passenger services per day between Maitland and Singleton.
  • Crawfords Werris Creek Terminal – Since being commissioned in June 2019, the project now sees three 1,000m services per week carrying 6,000 tonnes of export logs to Port Botany. ARTC continues to work with Crawfords on diversification opportunities including grain, cotton and meat products, which are currently transported by road.
  • Improvement in train dwell – Ongoing performance monitoring confirmed the consistent achievement of the ANCO-targeted improvement of 5% reduction in train dwell on the network. This has helped deliver increased capacity and efficiency for rail operators and the broader supply chain.
  • Link from Inland Rail to Hunter Valley (25TAL) – Scoping for the Inland Rail to Hunter Valley network link at Narrabri was completed in readiness for construction of the Narrabri to North Star (N2NS) project as part of Inland Rail.
  • National plant team continues to deliver – Ongoing provision of safe and effective plant and equipment, including a new Loram 120 stone high production plain line rail grinder, which is capable of achieving outputs 30% above the previous contracted equipment. It is the largest grinder in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Continuation of multi-year contracts – to mitigate security of supply risk, drive value for money outcomes and ensure continued delivery of critical maintenance and capital projects.

In addition, stakeholder engagement commenced in preparation for the 2022 Hunter Valley Access Undertaking (HVAU 2022). We will continue to progress activities and seek to maximise mutually beneficial outcomes for ARTC and our customers.

In addition, the Hunter Valley implemented a comprehensive range of measures across the network in response to COVID-19 – including controls and contingency plans for our Network Control Centres and Asset teams – to ensure continuity of critical services throughout the pandemic.

Upgrading our network

ARTC continued to invest in upgrades across the Hunter Valley network to enhance safety and reliability and deliver further customer service improvements, including:

  • Fixing Country Rail Program – Staged delivery of network enhancements also spanning financial year 2020-21 includes Narromine Yard signalling works, Merrygoen loop extension, Port Waratah Yard reconfiguration and Mount Murray loop extension. These projects help improve regional rail traffic movements to export terminals in Newcastle and Port Kembla, increasing train payload capacity and decreasing cycle times.
  • Gowrie Gates – The upgrade of the New England Highway rail bridge at Gowrie Gates in Singleton was delivered on time and within budget.
  • Muswellbrook Bridges replacement – Replacement of three rail bridges spanning the New England Highway and the Hunter River moved for detail design, contract award and mobilisation for the program to complete in 2022. The project increases the network robustness and integrity at this key location through the township at Muswellbrook.

Key results - Hunter Valley network

Safety celebrations including 1,000 days Lost Time Injury-free and 12 months Medically Treated Injury-free

Commissioning of ANCO digital train planning system

234 train journeys per day operating across our Hunter Valley network

179 million total coal tonnes transported on the Hunter Valley network

164 million coal tonnes transported to the Port of Newcastle (export)

5% increase in network utilisation and increased train efficiency via ANCO enabling an increase in contracted volume – 3Mtpa

$130.2 million of capital investment in the Hunter Valley network in 2019-20