Rail cars have long held a close association with mining. In fact, when looking back at movies or cartoons where mining is represented, there’s likely a bunch of open-top mine rail cars somewhere in the picture.
With the development of trackless machinery, however, a decline in rail use for mining has created a small disconnect between the popular image of labyrinthine mines lined with rail cars and how mines are evolving in reality. Rail took a backseat as low, stubby, purpose-built mine utility vehicles became more commonplace.
According to some experts, however, that trend might soon be reversed. Talking to Mining Weekly, Attie Claassen, contract manager for the South African railway and civil engineering contractor Loning Hill Properites, expressed this opinion:
Underground rail networks used to transport mined materials may be poised for future growth, owing to the high cost of trackless machinery and other alternative transport methods.
This shift in perspective comes as a result of a better understanding of the expenses associated with using trackless machinery. While many mines in South Africa attempted to make a push to establish trackless mining in the resource-rich country, the issue of cost quickly became too much to overlook. This has led some mines to consider reverting to the proven technology of rail haulage.
According to Claassen, “a correctly installed rail system has been proven to far outweigh its initial capital investment, and is, therefore, ‘the way to go’”.
Added to the proven advantages of underground rail networks, advances to the design and manufacturing of different underground rail cars have made reverting back to rail even more desirable.
Despite a decline in popularity, manufacturers like Wabi Iron & Steel Corp. have kept up their rail haulage manufacturing and development processes. The improved rail car technology that has resulted competes favourably versus trackless machinery in terms of cost, reliability, productivity and durability.
As the advantages of rail haulage continue to make their way back into the spotlight, it’s likely that the prospect will keep looking golden for the tried and tested mine ore car.
(Source: Could underground rail make a comeback?, Mining Weekly, March 28, 2014)