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Oversize Does Matter

Assessing the future transport challenges for mining in Queensland is a complex task with the majority of planning relying on information from a variety of sources. There are several variables involved and many of the figures we use to identify trends are estimates and therefore subject to change. We believe growth of the industry will most likely occur at a greater rate than indicated, which means the task ahead cannot be underestimated.

The first part of assessing this challenge is to understand the volume of traffic that will be using the road infrastructure. The amount of vehicles and loads travelling to and from Queensland’s mining communities is expected to continue to increase.

Queensland is about to experience an unprecedented amount of activity preparing for the boom in processing liquefied natural gas (LNG). Everything required to extract the gas, and move it to the points of export, needs to be transported to the mine sites. Large prefabricated modules used for extraction will require transportation. We estimate this will result in an extra 150,000 oversize vehicle road movements over three years as the industry is established.

New gas pipelines need to be built to transport gas from the region of extraction to the ports for export. To achieve this, there are about 36,000 semi-trailer loads of gas pipe currently moving around Queensland. Further movements of feeder pipe and equipment to connect the expected 40,000 gas wells with the main pipeline will be required, although the exact number is yet to be confirmed.

Some of the estimated numbers illustrate the task at hand. For example, each on-road movement for a drilling rig and its train of trailers requires about 10 oversize permits every time it is moved from one drill site to another. For the 40,000 wells expected to be drilled over the next five years, 400,000 permitted vehicle movements will be required.

Over the next 30 years, every gas well can require servicing up to 10 times. Each on-road movement for a well servicing rig also requires about 10 extra dimension permits, which means there will be another four million permitted vehicle movements for the 40,000 wells over the life of the drill sites.

Water and sand is also needed at the sites for use in the process of LNG fracking. It is estimated 400,000 tonnes of fracking sand will be brought into Queensland from interstate.

Processing natural gas requires significant infrastructure which includes the processing plant or gas trains to convert gas from the main pipeline. Transport and Main Roads is aware of planning for seven gas train facilities which will require about 87,000m² of lay-down storage before transport for just-in-time delivery. Components for the gas trains are being sourced and built locally and globally, then delivered ready for transport to the gas wells.

The gas trains will move low-pressure skids weighing 115 tonnes and high-pressure skids at 110 tonnes to the sites. They will also require pipe rack modules, which are more than 22 metres long and five metres high; gas extraction systems and switch rooms at 100 tonnes each. Moving the gas trains out to their prospective sites is expected to cause a significant increase in the required number of police escorts and oversize load pilots.

The new gas terminals being built at Curtis Island, near Gladstone, will create a large number of over dimensional movements in the Gladstone area and are already having an impact on the operation of the road network. This construction will require the transport of more than 135,000 standard loads, nearly 20,000 wide or heavy haulage loads and create five million tonnes of freight consignments from Brisbane to Gladstone. This will mean 25,000 additional loads on the Bruce Highway each year, 10 per cent of which will be oversized and need a police escort.

In the state’s west, the Surat Basin will have 715,000 tonnes of freight moved from Brisbane to Roma. The freight task for all other commodities is also expected to increase, and estimates indicate an additional 500,000 truck trips are expected on the Warrego Highway in 2013-14. In Central and Northern Queensland, the change in activity will increase the freight on our roads by 3.6 million tonnes, with the majority of it travelling as a wide or heavy load.
Increased mining activity will also increase the number of dangerous goods, including explosives, being transported on Queensland roads. Fuel operations, special purpose vehicles, cranes, mining equipment and escort operations are activities that are also estimated to experience a similar upward trend.

The demand for workers has increased to meet the demands of the developments in the resources and mining industry. Workers introduced to remote, undeveloped areas require accommodation to be provided. An example of this is the expected 2500 accommodation units to be shifted by road from Brisbane to the Caval Ridge mining development and another 4500 at the new Hancock GVK Coal development. Transport and Main Roads is yet to determine the numbers for the Wandoan Coal Project.

All this increased activity will need fuel to drive it. Fuel supply chains and volumes are expected to increase.

We also expect with new resource projects an increase in the demand for bulk rail freight which requires a comparable investment in rail infrastructure. New rail lines are planned: the construction of one rail line will require 25,000 Type I road train journeys just to move the sleepers into place.

Our major challenge with the burgeoning economy, particularly in the mining and resources sector, is the significant increase in heavy vehicle activity across Queensland. This upward trend is challenging the capacity of the state road network, road operations, rail line crossings and police escorts. Road operations need to be coordinated to sustain the increase in heavy vehicle activity without a loss of safety, public amenity or being detrimental to the state’s economy. The Heavy Vehicle Road Operations Program intends to do that in partnership with the Queensland Police Service and our rail partners.

Other general challenges we need to overcome are competing project funding and continuing to obtain the best value for money in all projects we undertake. Our job has been further complicated due to the extreme weather events of the last two years. The flooding events in particular caused a massive amount of damage to Queensland’s road network. Major supply chains were cut and the road transport industry suffered extensive disruptions.

Transport and Main Roads remains focused on reconstructing disaster-damaged roads and infrastructure throughout regional Queensland. The budget to repair the state controlled road network is now $6.023 billion. The department is planning improved road infrastructure to support the economic growth of the mining and resources industry, and the transportation of the associated equipment and materials all over the state.

Over the next two years a significant percentage of road movement in the resource sector supply chains will be oversized. This will present capacity challenges and possible conflicts with operational road construction sites. These challenges will need to be managed effectively to ensure there is minimal impact on the road work program, and the mining and resources economy. Both will need to co-exist in an efficient and safe manner.

Warwick Williams

Warwick Williams is currently the Acting Director of the Heavy Vehicle Road Operations Program Office, a joint initiative between the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, the Queensland Police Service, Queensland Rail and QR National. The program office is responsible for managing heavy vehicle operations across Queensland. Warwick has more than 20 years’ transport and logistics experience in the private and public sectors.