THE Hunter's biggest freight rail company, Pacific National, is only hauling about 85 per cent of the coal it has contracts to carry, its latest quarterly volume update has revealed.
The figure means Hunter coal companies are paying "take or pay" penalties on millions of tonnes of coal they had expected to sell this year, but have not.
Pacific National's parent company, rail and port operator Asciano, released the update to the stock exchange on Monday.
This showed Pacific National moved 40 million tonnes of coal in NSW and Queensland in the three months to the end of March, a fall of 2 per cent on the same time a year ago.
Asciano chief executive John Mullen blamed a derailment at Gunnedah - which shut the line for five days - for the bulk of the decline.
Mr Mullen said cost-cutting in both the rail and port side of the business would help it lift earnings by as much as 5 per cent this year, but the company could not cut costs forever.
'We have still got the fundamentals in Australia to grow; with a growing population you have got economic growth," Mr Mullen said.
"Certainly, this is a tougher time . . . but we will unwind off the back of that.
"Most core aspects are growing: housing, construction and employment are good. If we get on top of our costs and productivity and a few other things like that we will continue to do well." AAP