News & Reviews News Wire Water by unit train may expand beyond mines in Australia NEWSWIRE

Water by unit train may expand beyond mines in Australia NEWSWIRE

By Wayne Laepple | August 9, 2019

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CHARBON, Australia — The Southern Shorthaul Railway has begun moving unit trains of water between two coal mines in the western region of New South Wales to keep one mine from shutting down and saving 140 jobs. The area is suffering from a prolonged drought, and government officials are watching the trains, with the thought that it may soon be necessary to haul water to thirsty towns in the region.

The 40-car train carries more than 190,000 gallons of water in 40 tank cars. A railroad official said the mine would have been forced to shut down by September without the daily water delivery. The train is loaded by two men, who are able to load 10 cars at one time, he said. It takes about two hours to load the train and about the same to unload into an open-air storage dam. The two mine sites are 25 miles apart.

Although water trains have been operated in the past, the report notes, it has been several decades since it was necessary. In the United States, the Santa Fe Railroad hauled water for steam locomotives to desert areas in California, Arizona and Nevada, until the start of the diesel era.

A number of communities in the inland region of New South Wales are running low on water, and both railroad and government officials say transporting water by rail may provide a cost-effective interim solution.

18 thoughts on “Water by unit train may expand beyond mines in Australia NEWSWIRE

  1. Mister Benton:

    You may think Northern Australia does not need desalination plants but I have seen the place and potable water, even today, is at a premium. One thing Australia does have is a goodly natural gas supply which, even with the large carbon footprint involved in using it, mitigates against my hypothetical proposal to couple a nuclear reactor to the desalination plant.

    There are several major mines in the area served by Port Hedland and they get their ore from the mine to the port by rail. Now you might think that a smelter is fairly tolerant as to its feedstock and in the abstract this is true. But it is not energy efficient and therefore expensive – and here as in everywhere else – to vary too much from what the smelter is designed for. Not to mention, the customer (I believe most of the ore is sold foreign) is expecting a certain set of attributes from the ore, and the customer gets unhappy when the mines do not deliver.

    As a result, there is careful attention as to what is mined, and there are blending facilities at both the mine and in Port Hedland. Which brings us to why I was there. Bulk material assay is a big business and the operation of the analyzers must be certified.

    I was there for the wet, and believe me, the whole area is quite beautiful when it gets water. But the wet does not extend all that far inland. In the dry, I have never seen such an inhospitable land. The word harsh hardly covers it and it takes a special breed of people to live there.

    Most of these mines are fly-in fly-out operations. You are on site for ten days at a time and are expected to work twelve hours a day when you are there. Then, you fly out and get a week off. But when you are on site conditions are harsh, downright primitive, and believe me, there just ain’t enough water of any description for those nice hot luxurious Hollywood showers you start to dream about. Wet down, soap up, rinse down, next!

    When I showed up to do the job (I was there for about six months) there was talk about a “sheila” going to the mines. It wasn’t that they thought I couldn’t do the work and it wasn’t that I wasn’t welcome, it was that they were scandalized that I was being asked to put up with these conditions. This is a far cry, by the way, from the sort of hostile receptions I was used to from North American job sites, but that is an aside.

    Back at Port Hedland, there is (or was) the Esplanade Hotel, This was a classic hotel in the grand tradition, and one of the glorious things it had was air conditioning – the other, of course, being unlimited water. Wondrous, beautiful unlimited water. You get kind of dry after a week or so in the scrub.

    Australia is a beautiful place but the interior is arid and the land is harsh. Nonetheless, it is captivating and had I not had responsibilities in North America I might well have stayed. High volume desalination would be a Godsend to this place, although like anything else it has the capacity to permanently alter the character of the area. I leave it to others to determine the desirability of such a thing.

    One last thing. There was at the time – it was still running when I was there – one of the “Tin Worm” Zephyrs from the US Midwest. What in hell it was doing in the middle of the back of beyond and how it got there I have not got the foggiest, but there it was. First time I saw it I thought the heat was getting to me.

    I did my job and left, and now I shall never go back. But I have my memories and I can say I was there when …

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.
    (A. E. Houseman)

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn seven league boots.

  2. Mister Huerkamp:

    I have never been fond of the GE boiling water design as was at Fukushima myself, and I’m in the industry. But there are many other competing designs. One reason I like the new generation of modular high temperature gas reactors is that they are intrinsically safe, which is to say they require only passive cooling. They will survive a zero electrical power scenario.

    I don’t recall seeing American style tanker cars when I was there but then I wasn’t there for the railroads. The Top End is very different than, say, New South Wales, almost a different world. And it needs water.

    Would I do that job again? Yes, in a heartbeat. This time (if you’ll have me) I might stay. I often wish I had.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn memories.

  3. Paul Huerkamp

    I do not think these are even tank cars. I think they would be tank containers, water tanks designed to be loaded like intermodal containers, running on container flat cars. I don’t think we have many proper tank cars left in Australia as fuel transport went over to trucks years ago. The only water tankers tend to be water gins used for running heritage steam locomotives now that there aren’t many places left where they can refill their water tanks. Most freight trains in Australia are now intermodal container trains, or grain trains, or coal or iron ore mine trains. Also most of the network around here only supports 23 tonne axle load (200,000 pound cars) as outside of the mine railways there isn’t enough traffic to justify upgrading the lines.

    As for nuclear power in the last federal elections one politician promised to bring nuclear power to Australia, amongst other things. He won 0 seats as Australian voters like my wife do not want to see a Fukushima style nuclear power plant built here. javascript:void(0);

  4. Anna, I believe the only remaining regular “tin hare” operation in Australia is the “Gulflander” in Queensland.
    To understand the reason for having passenger trains serving towns that probably had less population than the train has seats , you need to go back to the first European (generally English)settlers.To them , the arrival of the railway was the arrival of civilization , and the promise of development. Conversely ,ending railway passenger service was met with protest , despite the protesting locals not using the train much towards the end. Add in a first past the post parliament system , where a rural MP has a lot of influence , based on area , not population. That’s my take anyway, I’m a Kiwi, with a few friends and family having worked in the mines in Australia.
    As far as water goes, I’m coming from a green perspective , so I don’t think using energy to desalinate water is the answer. Apart from the crop farming already mentioned , I don’t think livestock farming as it is practiced now in the outback is sustainable. I suspect they could produce as much meat as they do now on 10 % of the land by using a small amount of irrigation to grow drought tolerant plants to feed livestock. the rest should be left to regenerate , or grow whatever trees will survive. I also see the use of seawater to grow salt tolerant plants such as mangroves inland. Google greening the desert for work / research been done in the middle East and North Africa.

  5. These tank cars must be very small. 40 cars to carry 190,000 gallons. That is less that 5,000 gallons per car. With the average size US tank car (20-25,000 gallons), you would need only 9 or 10 cars to haul that water. If that line is hauling coal, it seems to me that they could run larger cars. If they got 40 of them, that line could help supply some of the communities along it’s route with the necessary water.

  6. 1. The Santa Fe Railroad did not haul anything into the diesel era, it didn’t even make it into the 20th century.
    2. No version of the Santa Fe engaged in rail transportation (other than when it owned the SP) ever served Nevada on it’s own rails excluding the town of Searchlight (circa 1906 – 1924, sources differ).
    3. The Santa Fe Railway was hauling water well into the 1970’s, if not later, to isolated desert communities. I was told that the receivers were public water supplies, but the communities served may have been rail only locations and thus the railway owned the public water supply.
    4. I believe that several railroads operated water trains (and may still operate) for fire suppression purposes.
    5. Most importantly, Chennai, India obtains about 660,000 gallons daily by rail for public water supply.

  7. Plenty of #111 tank cars surplus since they cannot move crude any longer. A good loading point would be North River on the idle Saratoga & North Creek RR in New York for pure Hudson River water. Then there is east end of Hoosac Tunnel on the Deerfield River coming out of Vermont. Or just use the water that flows over Niagara Falls, NY as that would not be too hard to filter to be drinkable. Under present law, it would be legal to load one 100 car train a week in New York.

  8. Mister Cook:

    The problem is that the water shortage discussed in the article is not in New York State. It is in Australia. And at that, as things go in Oz, New South Wales is relatively lush.

    In the north, in the Never-Never, Gibson, and Pilbara regions where the big mining projects are, potable water is not now and never has been particularly plentiful. The Gibson Desert is, after all, a desert. For such applications a nuclear powered desalination plant would have serious utility.

    Closer to home we have Southern California, which has been kept hydrated by a series of very sketchy riparian rights grabs over the last hundred years (see Owens Valley Water Wars, and the movie Chinatown). As a result there are now packed into SoCal over twenty million people (there are more people in California than there are in either Australia or Canada), in a place where the maximum carrying capacity of the local water supply is perhaps one percent of that.

    San Diego County runs a desalination plant and turns the output over to the local water district. There is another similar plant further north. Both these plants are gas fired, currently the cheapest way to do things but with the indirect cost of a large carbon footprint.

    I am hardly the first person to propose coupling a nuclear reactor to a desalination plant – that is old hat in the industry, The technology for doing so is well known, pilot plants and demonstrators have been built, but so far no full scale plant has been built. But the time will come.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn nuclear whack job.

  9. Re: Keep the NIMBYs under control (It’s NUCULAR!!!!) and from break of ground to first output could be under five years

    Keeping the NIMBY’s under control might be difficult with NUCULAR engineering’s past track record: “Dude, what can go wrong, dude? Dude, this will be SOOO cool. Hold my beer and let’s turn this sucker on! Dude….”

  10. Here’s a giggle for such places.

    Site a derated Framatome SC-HTGR on the coast there, driving a major desalination plant, and ship the water in quantity. You could make a great deal of potable water with a setup like that.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn mad scientist

  11. The Santa Fe (and later BNSF) moved tank carloads of potable water between what we’re then the Western AG Minerals potash mine and refinery near Carlsbad, NM into the late 1990’s.

  12. Mister Narita:

    It would be, if not derated. I would suggest, unless there is some other load to be driven, running it in the 100MWt range.

    Of course, at that point there are other options. You don’t have to stick with the Framatome reactor, but it is a proven design, modular and highly amenable to such an application. The Chinese for an example have a modular high temp gas reactor at 165MWe, or about 350MWt (efficiencies are good with these designs). And, it is modular, built in a factory and not by the piece on the site, and designed to be delivered by rail within the Plate E loading gauge. The Chinese are building these things hand over fist and siting them in groups of six for an availability in the high 90’s. How easy it is to derate one of these reactors I don’t know.

    I wouldn’t use a CANDU-6. While it is a proven design the nucleonics for the AECL design are that it uses natural uranium but heavy water. It does have high availability (and is designed for 645MWe output) but there are issues as to whether it can be throttled. However the real killer is that it is designed for once-through fuel with a dwell time of only a few months and is designed to be refueled while running. It is a nice design for power generation but I don’t think appropriate for this application.

    Turning to the evaporator side, there are two major approaches to desalination. You can use thermal evaporation (heating the seawater in a partial vacuum); or you can use reverse osmosis.

    Thermal evaporation is not nearly as efficient as reverse osmosis but it has the advantage that it is a simple, well proven technology. It works, it is easy to implement.

    As for reverse osmosis, this requires access to advanced membrane technology, and the membrane must be renewed periodically. However membrane prices have been steadily dropping these last few years, to the point where amortized cost of operation (which includes build cost over the life of the plant) is as cheap or cheaper than an evaporator.

    The output from either of these designs is quite potable and could even be used to grow crops or to refurbish a depleted ground water table. Keep the NIMBYs under control (It’s NUCULAR!!!!) and from break of ground to first output could be under five years.

    The above comments are generic in nature and do not form the basis for an attorney/client relationship. They do not constitute legal advice. I am not your attorney. Find your own damn raving lunatic.

  13. Wouldn’t a 625MW power plant be a little bit of overkill. Or are you using the power plant to also power the train. Power to you. 🙂

    I am no expert, just a worn out truck driver. If you need an attorney call your state bar association. If you need a truck, call a cargo broker, as I said I’m worn out.

  14. Maybe a niche like Crude by Rail in short term but most places will come to depend on pipelines and canals when economics take over at end of day, where their is water it will be sent to where their is not via canal and pipe once the need is big enough for users to pay for it or the political will is big enough to subsidize it. California is built on the whole notion of it. Capture the mountain runoff for Central & Imperial valley fields and coastal populations….

    Some places you will see both, they spent millions to prevent Red River flooding Fargo & Grand Foks, ND but their was also an agreement put in place to send Missouri River water east for when the garrison dam was built and now a new push to build the pipes and canals to get that water into Sheyenne River and therefore to Fargo when the next drought comes around. Behind the scenes you can argue it is North Dakota’s way to irrigate fertile eastern ND with water from Missouri running through the west side of state

  15. With global warming and increasing droughts and population the lack of fresh water is going to be an ongoing issue. It is going to take things like Anna’s suggestion to help with the problem. Large scale saltwater desalination is going to be the only solution in some parts of the world.

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