Water by unit train may expand beyond mines in Australia

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CHARBON, Australia — The Southern Shorthaul Railway has begun moving unit trains of water between two coal mines in the western region of New South Wales to keep one mine from shutting down and saving 140 jobs. The area is suffering from a prolonged drought, and government officials are watching the trains, with the thought that it may soon be necessary to haul water to thirsty towns in the region.

The 40-car train carries more than 190,000 gallons of water in 40 tank cars. A railroad official said the mine would have been forced to shut down by September without the daily water delivery. The train is loaded by two men, who are able to load 10 cars at one time, he said. It takes about two hours to load the train and about the same to unload into an open-air storage dam. The two mine sites are 25 miles apart.

Although water trains have been operated in the past, the report notes, it has been several decades since it was necessary. In the United States, the Santa Fe Railroad hauled water for steam locomotives to desert areas in California, Arizona and Nevada, until the start of the diesel era.

A number of communities in the inland region of New South Wales are running low on water, and both railroad and government officials say transporting water by rail may provide a cost-effective interim solution.

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