HEAVY HAUL RAIL
The eleventh International Heavy Haul Association conference covers updates on heavy haul developments, rail expansion plans and global technological advancements
Photo by: Duane Daws
The International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA), in partnership with State-owned freight utility Transnet and the South African Heavy Haul Association (SAHHA), will host its eleventh IHHA conference on September 2 to 6 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, in South Africa.
The theme of the conference will be ‘Advancing Heavy Haul Technologies and Operations in a Changing World’ and aims to address the recent market downturn characterised by low commodity prices, low gross domestic product growth rates and slowdown in demand for freight bulk commodities such as coal and iron-ore.
These adverse market conditions have had a significant impact on the profitability and sustainability of the railways, reports the IHHA.
The conference will specifically focus on research and innovations related to how the sector can advance heavy haul technologies and operations to respond positively to the current market downturn, thereby contributing significantly to the survival of the railways.
Also included will be presentations of technical papers in research and development areas such as rolling stock, railway infrastructure and operations, and a technical workshop to be held two days prior to the conference.
International railway experts will present selected topics within the infrastructure and rolling stock fields, technical tours for delegates involving site visits to Transnet’s heavy haul railways and ports, as well as social tours for delegates and partners to visit tourist attractions in Cape Town.
More than 1 000 heavy haul rail executives, professionals and engineers are expected to attend the conference. This includes representatives from the US, Australia, India, Russia, China, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Norway and African countries.
During the conference, a keynote speaker from the World Economic Forum will address delegate on the next industrial/technological revolution on railways.
Also discussed will be insights and updates on heavy haul developments, rail expansion plans and global technological advancements.
IHHA deputy chairperson and Transnet executive Brian Monakali says the conference will share global expertise on how to improve efficiencies, safety and viability of the industry.
“The enlightening discussions, plenaries and workshops will focus on fact-finding and shifts to drive the industry forward.”
Transnet is a founding member of both the IHHA and the South African Heavy Haul Association, and a platinum sponsor for this conference.
Post conference, Transnet will host a technical tour to its Saldanha port facilities and its world-class Iron Ore Heavy Haul line – the largest on the African West Coast.
Delegates will be able to walk about the port, visit the manganese and iron-ore handling facilities, tippler operations and the iron-ore line operating centre as well as drive along a section of iron-ore line up to Elands Bay.
“We look forward to welcoming the industry’s leading players, as well as young professionals making their mark in the heavy haul railway sector,” notes Monakali.
The Technical Track Workshop will feature international railway technical experts who will present on selected topics within the infrastructure and rolling stock fields to provide engineers and professionals with insights into developments and groundwork on technical aspects that can be applied to improve rail operators’ efficiencies.
The workshop will be based on the book published by the IHHA – Guidelines to Best Practices for Heavy Haul Railway Operations: Infrastructure Construction and Maintenance Issues.
It will run over one-and-a-half days from September 2 to 3 and is available at an additional registration fee for a maximum number of 250 delegates.
The R6 000 early bird, or R7 000 late registration fee includes access to the workshop on both days, tea breaks and lunches during the workshop, course materials and a copy of the textbook that the workshop is based on.
Internationally recognised technical experts will host discussions on topics including fundamentals of wheel-rail interaction, track components, special trackwork and components, track geometry, ballast maintenance, track inspection, track condition assessment, rail welding, and rail grinding and friction modification.
Heavy Rail Industry Overview
The IHHA states that there is no better way to see the impact of global growth on industry’s supply chains, than from the driver’s seat of a logistics enterprise.
“Caught between the coal face and exporters, and squeezed into the space between manufacturer and consumer, the heavy rail industry has been in a tough spot.”
Monakali admits that this view has sparked serious introspection by sector players as to how to remain relevant and competitive.
The bigger challenge for the heavy haul industry lies in its ability to adopt a new mindset – to broaden its view so that it encompasses the entire supply chain – from the customer’s stockyard to the wholesaler’s warehouse.
“This is the ultimate innovation that the industry needs to adopt if it is to secure a sustainable future,” he says.
Such a transformation is probably more important in a country such as South Africa, where only 15% of the country’s rail-friendly freight is transported by rail. The predominant transportation mode for the bulk of the country’s freight is road haulage, despite the cost advantage that rail offers.
Naturally, there are a few challenges to closing the gap between our rail yards and the so-called “last mile” to customers. But these are not insurmountable, as we could easily create that link through strategic partnerships with existing road freight companies.
The global slowdown, accelerated by China’s cooling economy, has had a noticeable impact across all supply chains and industry sectors. It should be no surprise then that the heavy rail sector has seen declining volumes, income and profits leaving key players finding new ways to improve efficiencies.
This has forced rail operators on a drive to lower operational costs by introducing a variety of innovations. Many of these are of a technological nature, for organisations accustomed to engineering and technology solutions.
“All of these interventions are focused on cutting costs as achieving efficiencies can go only so far towards improving the bottom line. For example, the ability to carry more freight in a single load has far reaching financial benefits,” states the IHHA.
In South Africa, the use of new technologies that allow us to evenly distribute the power of locomotives throughout Transnet’s long iron-ore trains have helped increase speed, braking and control, while reducing wear and tear on rails and wheels.
“By adopting a more customer-centric approach, we significantly improve our reliability, availability and predictability,” Monakali points out.
He adds that Transnet is already making strides to tighten these types of operational disciplines by using technology to monitor condition of infrastructure and rolling stock, trace and report the whereabouts of rolling stock assets.
“In fact, it is difficult to think of an industry riper for the application of Internet of Things solutions to help drive improvements.”
However, he notes that one of the challenges faced with this new technology is finding ways to interpret the data from all the sensors in a fast, efficient and accurate manner.
The nature of these challenges is epitomised in the commodity price surge of 2016, which saw a rapid rise in the price of gold, coal and iron-ore. The industry had a small window of opportunity to “make use of the downturn to squeeze out all possible efficiencies” – essentially preparation for the eventual turnaround of local and global economies enabling South Africa able to meet growing demand.
A dramatic change such as a revamping of the entire supply chain is possible if efforts are coordinated and heavy rail operators are able to improve collaboration. The alternative is to becoming irrelevant or subservient to other logistics providers due to the lack of such transformation.
“The heavy haul rail industry may appear an odd candidate for disruption and innovation, but we recognise that now is not the time for complacency and that we have a unique opportunity to up our game and set out on a path of sustainable growth,” concludes Monakali.