6 months ago


The long day had

The long day had tempered my enthusiasm to take advantage of spending some time with the port shunters. Instead, getting back to Greg’s place for an early night was beckoning. There would be plenty of chances ahead to see FMG rail operations in action the very next day when I was due to go for my arranged loco cab ride all the way up to the Cloudbreak mine, staying overnight at the mine’s FIFO camp. Despite an initial preference to see the Solomon branch, strict security arrangements in place at the Solomon Hub facility were deemed to be a little too complex for a casual visitor to gain access. Not that I had any reason for complaint! Thursday – The Trip To Cloudbreak (or perhaps not) Being an experienced train driver’s wife, Julie kindly prepared plenty of food supplies for me to take along on my two day adventure. Lone train drivers need to be well prepared for any eventuality, there being no shops from which to obtain provisions if you happen to run short somewhere out along the track. Arriving back at Kanyirri depot before 6.00 am, the mandatory breath test was conducted, and the signed authority to ride issued. For today’s journey I was to accompany a friendly young driver by the name of Jason, a former Queensland Rail Citytrain driver who also hailed from Brisbane. Happy that my arrangements were sorted, Greg then headed home for a well-earned rest after his eventful 12hr overnight shift. However, it was not long before I was to be put on notice that there may have to be a change of plan. An FMG employee was required to travel up to Cloudbreak aboard our train. One passenger per train was cited as a company rule, and my presence had created a mild complication for the day shift driver supervisor. Just my luck! With the next two trains up to the mines still being unloaded, possibly until mid-morning, there was no choice but for us to wait in the port shunter’s shed located at the end of the balloon loops until further advice was offered. My grand entrance to the shed created concern amongst some of those inside with it being highly unusual for any outsiders to be seen there. It was additional cause to be wary when the stranger had a ‘fancy camera’ with him. Once it was explained I was there as a guest rather than a company spy, a sense of calm returned. Sitting around in the shunter’s shed was not how I had imagined I would be spending my valuable time, but there are always interesting characters that are able to keep you entertained. It was brought to my attention more than once that within the shunter’s ranks there was a famous AFL legend who played several seasons for the West Coast Eagles. If only I had been more of a fan and asked for an autograph while I had the chance! Conversation that morning was abuzz with rumours that significant changes were in the pipeline for the job description of shunters, along with unwelcome speculation that driver redundancies might be part of the outcome. Primarily it was being proposed that shunters would be promoted to yard drivers, being trained to drive the trains at low speed within the confines of the port. The normal driver pool would then be more available for main line work. But the downside being that perhaps some permanent driver positions would become surplus to requirements, with casual driver positions making inroads. It was a brief but stimulating discussion session of opinions and concerns that the threat of change in any workplace can be certain to generate. Jason and I then found ourselves alone in the shed while the shunters sprang into action to deal with an incoming loaded train. Eventually Jason was summoned to prepare the next train and departed for Cloudbreak without me being aboard with him. It was not made known to me if there actually was a passenger being conveyed as arranged earlier. I could only wait for a call to be told of my fate, but when that advice was eventually forthcoming, it became frustratingly obvious that there had been a major stuff up and that I should have been aboard with Jason after all. Too late now! No choice but to wait for the next one… To help pass the time and break the escalating sense of boredom, the opportunity was taken to photograph and examine two pairs of locomotives parked close by from ground level. And the shed itself aroused my curiosity. It was what appeared to be a converted 40 foot container. Essentials, including air conditioning, kitchen facilities, plus tables and chairs were there, but located at one end were two toilet cubicles accessible by exterior doors. But both were found to be completely full of junk, and in no way functional as the “out of service” tags on the doors rightly indicated. It was apparent that if a visit to the toilet for either the male or female shunters was required, a 2 km The shunter guides the driver of FMG shunt loco GE Dash 9 - 009 as it pushes the compressor cars to be attached at the rear of a recently arrived loaded rake which is occupying the TUL 3 inner circuit road at the port. Note the removed ECP monitor on the ground. A handy lighting tower earth mound provides the elevated vantage point. 30 RAILWAY DIGEST

INDIAN OCEAN Port Hedland Goldsworthy Nimingarra Cape Lambert • Dampier • Karratha • • Wickham Shay Gap Yarrie Marble Bar • • Pannawonica Woodstock Nunna Nullagine s Firetail N Brockman 4 Tom Price • Mt Tom Price Kings Solomon Hub Marandoo Wittenoom Karijini National Park Marillana Yandi Area C Cloudbreak Christmas Creek Yandicoogina Hope Downs Roy Hill Fortescue Metals Group Railway Other railways Roy Hill Railway Roads Paraburdoo • West Angelas 0 25 50 100 • Newman Jimblebar Kilometres ©2018 BB/ARHSnsw drive back to the main depot was their only respectable option. Not a port-a-loo in sight. I found this predicament odd in a 21st century workplace, but obviously the employees have not made it a priority for management to have remedied. Lighting of the rail track within the port area is another contentious issue. The shunters have asked FMG if a permanent lighting system could be installed around the balloon loops to make their jobs safer and easier at night. Presumably the cost required to effectively illuminate seven kilometres of track would be very substantial and be decreed by the bean counters as expenditure that would be difficult to justify to shareholders. As a reasonable compromise, hired portable lighting towers have been in use for some years at locations where most of the shunter activities occur. Large mounds of earth have been formed to provide the lights with a few extra metres of elevation. Earlier during the morning I became aware of news filtering through of a broken knuckle delaying a port bound loaded train at Durack, 95 km to the south. Not only that, there was notification of a broken frog on a set of swing nose points at Kanga, adjacent to the 108 km mark. It was possible for both of these hindrances to be bypassed as they were within the 40 km long Durack to Forrest duplicated section. But crossing options available to the train controllers would be significantly impacted. How might these factors affect the next departure I wondered? Latest advice on offer was the next Cloudbreak-bound train now wasn’t expected to leave until the early afternoon...and I had been waiting since 6am! Following nearly five long hours of filling in time, I was very relieved to see the senior shunter return to the shed. Sympathising with my plight, he invited me to tag along and observe how they were dealing with an ore car coupler that had recently failed during the dumping operation on the TUL 1 road. Without the ability at the port to perform the heavy repairs needed, the rake would have to be split and the rear section shunted away to release the crippled wagons. In these situations long lengths of chain are simply intertwined several times between the affected cars to keep them coupled together. The trailing load imposed on the chains by the two loaded ore cars amounted to a comparatively meagre 320 tonnes being slowly towed along on what is dead level track. A pair of locos sitting silently in wait at the end of the balloon loops were fired up to assist, being attached to pull back around 160 loaded cars a distance of 3 km. The failed two pairs of ore cars would then be shunted into the middle balloon loop road which fulfilled the temporary role of a “bad order spur”. From there they would be collected after the two sections of the rake were reunited. Throughout these manoeuvres, shunters are responsible for keeping the loco driver very well informed as to where the end of the long train is. It is also the shunter’s job to ensure any level crossings are physically protected when wagons are being pushed back through them, there being no audible horn blast or flashing lights to warn approaching road vehicles. More than 90 minutes after the mishap first occurred, the two portions were reunited as one rake again, and the compressor cars at the tail end restarted to allow the dumping process to resume. Without delay, the crippled wagon pairs were then hauled across to Kanyirri depot. Here the wagons would remain until being forwarded on the next day to the large rolling stock maintenance depot at Thomas Yard, situated several kilometres further south. It was an impressive and rare insight into the tasks required to minimise delays with the delivery of ore when things inevitably go wrong. I owe great thanks for being able to witness a rare lesson in troubleshooting, railway style. The early afternoon had arrived and there was still no certainty as to when the next train would be departing, given that it had been setback even further by the coupling failure. This was making the prospect of securing a ride up all the way up to the mine in daylight less likely by the minute. On eventually learning of my situation via my frequent text messages, Greg was most apologetic for the unfortunate circumstances that had developed while he slept. He strongly recommended that I abandon the day and he would make new arrangements for another trip on Friday morning. It had in one sense been a major disappointment that the cab ride didn’t happen, but I did witness a very unique aspect of job that few very outsiders ever would. For that I do count myself very fortunate. And the next day it would become apparent that it was actually a blessing. To be continued... FEBRUARY 2018 31

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