(Recast throughout, adds mining interviews, details of repairs)
By Tom Westbrook and Jonathan Barrett
SYDNEY, April 11 The first coal train from an
Australian mining area devastated by a cyclone reached port in
the northern state of Queensland on Tuesday, sparking a race by
major miners including BHP Billiton to secure spare
capacity on the only operating line.
The reopening of the Blackwater line will allow Australian
mines to start replenishing world coking coal supplies, with
Thomson Reuters Eikon data showing 38 bulk cargo ships at anchor
near Gladstone, most of them waiting to load coal.
Coking coal prices in China spiked last week on
news of the disruption, but have since eased on a fall in local
steel prices and as a resumption of shipments nears.
Just before 8 a.m. local time (2200 GMT) the first coal
train arrived at Gladstone port for loading on the Aqua Bonanza,
which will head for China on Wednesday, said shipping agent John
Parks. Rail operator Aurizon said trains are running at
However, the majority of coal in the region travels on
Aurizon's Goonyella line further north, which was cut by large
landslides. Aurizon expects the line to be closed until May,
leaving miners on that line chasing capacity on Blackwater and
the most northern line, Newlands.
"We are all clamouring to fit into a queue," said one miner
on the Goonyella line who requested anonymity.
"It helps if you have mines on the other lines. If you don't
already have reserved capacity on the other lines you are at a
The long timeframe in getting the Goonyella line working
again is linked to a stretch of rail that goes through a
mountain range that experienced land slides during Cyclone
A spokesman for BHP, which has interests in 11 coal mines in
Queensland's Bowen Basin, with most located on the Goonyella
line, said the miner was planning to "expedite product from our
mines while the rail network is being repaired".
Repair gangs have cut a road in to the worst affected area
at Black Mountain and are working round-the-clock shifts to
clear what Aurizon calls a "significant" landslide from the
Goonyella line, union representative Bruce Mackie told Reuters.
"They're clearing the landslide so that once all that
overburden is cleared, Aurizon can then assess what the track
damage is. But until you get all of the mud out of the way and
all the dirt out of the way you really dunno what it all looks
like," Mackie said.
The port itself at the end of the Goonyella line, called Hay
Point, became fully operational on Monday, according to the
Queensland government, although it can only move stockpiles
delivered before the cyclone knocked out the rail line.
Jenny Patroni, postmaster at Black Mountain's nearest
township of Koumala, said the mountain-side glows with
floodlights at night during the late shifts.
"They've got all the maintenance fellas working ... there's
backhoes, you name it, it's going 24/7. It looks like another
township," she said.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY.
Additional reporting by Benjamin Weir; Editing by Richard