FURTHER concerns have been raised over the proposed Bylong coal mine, this time over the capacity of the rail system to carry its coal.
The Korean-backed project is before the Independent Planning Commission in the final stages of the approvals process, with owner Kepco having reduced its scale in the face of numerous environmental concerns.
Bylong’s coal would be railed to the main northern rail line at Muswellbrook along a single-track line between Gulgong and Sandy Hollow, which already carries coal from the Ulan, Moolarben and Wilpinjong mines.
Ulan’s owner Glencore wrote to the commission recently to say the three mines could produce 50.5 million tonnes a year but the “theoretical capacity” of the line was only 40 million tonnes a year without considering Bylong’s coal.
Glencore said coal was moved out of the three mines in intensive “campaigns” of up to 29 trains a day and the existing track with its “steep inclines, tunnels and slower speeds” was already at capacity.
It said that until the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) expanded the line, “there is no possibility for Bylong to rail its coal”.
Glencore said approving Bylong with the rail line as it was could have a “significant and unnecessary” impacts on the Ulan mine, which employed more than 650 people and provided “significant . . . benefits” to the region.
It said “further inefficiencies’ on the Gulgong to Sandy Hollow rail line would create delays for Ulan and other users of the line, impose extra costs on the Ulan operation including demurrage or late-loading penalties and strain Ulan’s relations with its customers because of the delays in getting coal to the market.
ARTC would not comment directly on Glencore’s claim but it said it worked with its customers and various coal and competition authorities to negotiate access to the coal network and to plan track upgrades when they were needed.
“This is a robust and proven process in place since 2011 and has successfully enabled significant industry growth over that time,” ARTC said.
Bylong proponent Kepco said it was aware of “the capacity constraints on the line”. It said Bylong had been part of ARTC’s planning since 2012 and it was confident the necessary track capacity could be made available.
Environmental group Lock the Gate Alliance said the NSW Department of Planning had “blithely recommended” Bylong be approved despite the lack of track capacity and called on the commission to reject it.