Rio Tinto will spend $263 million to boost its rail capacity to 360 million tonnes, with iron ore boss Chris Salisbury highlighting the miner’s Pilbara rail network as “a bottleneck” in the company’s operation.
Speaking at an investor presentation in Sydney this week, Salisbury said the company’s port capacity was ready for Rio’s Silvergrass operations to ramp up to 360mtpa, but rail capacity remained capped at 330mtpa.
“We are intensely focused on optimising our full system infrastructure: 360mtpa nameplate, with flex either side of that, dependent on the value proposition,” Salisbury said.
“The rampup of Silvergrass, plus mine and productivity creep, enables mine capacity of around 360mta, with a similar nameplate for our four ports.
“We have been rail-constrained for much of this year, a bottleneck we need to eliminate completely. While 2017 maintenance work has reduced some restrictions, ongoing work is required in 2018 to improve overall asset condition and prepare for future optimum productivity, including the increased tonnes from AutoHaul and other productivity measures.”
Rio’s aim is to boost rail capacity to be higher than that of its port and mines, to provide the system with the “sprint capacity” it needs to take advantage of market swings.
With that in mind, Salisbury said the miner plans around US$200 million in capital expenditure, in 2018 alone, to boost rail productivity.
AutoHaul – Rio’s ongoing driverless train development program – will improve productivity by eliminating train stoppages for driver changeover, while also reducing train spacing to a target of below 10 kilometres between trains – down from the current rate of around 16 kilometres.
“As we test the need for more trains and extra volume per car, we are refocusing our maintenance campaign,” Salisbury continued. “This includes, for example, better predictive ability from instrumented ore-cars and track-monitoring equipment and adding more efficient integrated track machines to our maintenance fleet.”
Salisbury also noted Rio plans to eliminate brake cars – which are attached to the train during dumping to maintain dumping pressure – and replace them with locomotives, to reduce shunting in the miner’s yards and improve cycle times.