Derailment constrains Australian coal exports

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Coal deliveries to Queensland's largest coal export port of Gladstone remain constrained with the 70mn t/yr Blackwater system still closed after a train derailed at midday Australian Eastern Standard Time (02:00 GMT) on 18 June, killing one train driver and injuring two others.

The rollingstock is under recovery from the accident and the line will remain closed until it is cleared and safe for trains to pass, according to the Queensland Coal Network operator Aurizon. It is unclear how long the line will be closed as it is contingent on police investigations, although it is likely to be less than a week.

The accident occurred west of the Queensland city of Rockhampton on the main Blackwater rail line that connects coking and thermal coal mines in the lower and middle Bowen basin into 102mn t/yr Gladstone, including Curragh, Jellinbah East, Blackwater and Kestrel coking coal mines, as well as Rolleston and Minerva thermal coal mines.

Some miners in the Bowen basin have options to send coal north using the Goonyella rail system to the ports of Dalrymple Bay, Hay Point and Abbot Point, but this can take some time to organise depending on capacity in the rail and port systems.

The Moura rail system, which also delivers coal into Gladstone, continues to operate delivering coal from the lower grade coking coal and pulverised coal injection (PCI) grade mines of Dawson and Baralaba.

Ship queues at Gladstone are at 31, above the average of around 20, partly due to higher shipments planned ahead of the end of the Australian financial year on 30 June. Gladstone exported 5.44mn t of coal in May as shippers continue to diversify export destinations to offset the lack of shipments to China because of Beijing's import ban on Australian coal.

Gladstone shipped 72.55mn t of coal in 2019, or around 200,000 t/d. This fell to 70.52mn t in 2020 and has slipped by around 5pc in the first five months of 2021. Hard coking coal typically accounts for around a third of Gladstone's total exports, with lower-grade coking coal and thermal coal each accounting for a third.

Argus last assessed the premium hard coking coal price at $176.15/t fob Australia on 18 June, up from $107.75/t on 3 May. The PCI low-volatile price, which was higher than the premium hard coking coal price on 5 May, has not quite followed the higher grade higher over the past month. The PCI price was assessed at $136.65/t fob Australia on 18 June, up from $109.35/t on 5 May.

Argus last assessed high-grade Australian thermal coal at $126.83/t fob Newcastle for NAR 6,000 kcal/kg on 18 June, up from $88.19/t on 30 April and a low of $46.18/t on 4 September. It assessed lower-grade coal at $72.83/t fob Newcastle for NAR 5,500 kcal/kg on 18 June, up from $55.44/t on 30 April and $35.04/t on 4 September.


By Jo Clarke

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