When I first started work, I spent my time behind computers, ferreting about with wires and cables and generally fixing them. Then I was allowed to program them, losing myself in lines and lines of code and logic. This sometimes meant I didn’t see daylight, especially when it came to building the semi-supercomputing style systems, sometimes ending up almost inside them before they were ready to run my carefully crafted code.
Nowadays, I spend my working life in front of a computer, designing the systems that some other poor bugger has to ferret around building whilst some other poor bugger has to code from my designs.
I know, I’m almost drunk with power.
Anyways, the disadvantage of all this and the day in day out sitting on my arse is that it’s easy to get disconnected from the customers I’m working with to make their lives easier and the physical world they live and operate in.
So, to fix this – I got myself out of the office to go up to the big red north of Western Australia to visit one of the mining sites I’m working with.
The Pilbara region of the state is a beautiful red stained landscape, bearable in the winter and seared with baking heat in the summer. It’s also prone to cyclones and torrential rain in the wet season. Not a place for wimps, thats for sure.
Its also the place where iron ore is mined and shipped out to China. Millions and millions of tonnes of the stuff every day gets blasted, hauled, crushed, railed, dumped, stockpiled and shipped. And its my job to help this process be more efficient. Not so great for the landscape (but for all the brutality of the the mine site – they are tiny really, compared to the size of the land) but vital to the economy of Australia and the steel mills of China that manufacture goods for the rest of the world.
Iron Ore really is the food for the industrial machine and Rio Tinto, my employer, is by far the biggest operator in the region (with BHP and Fortescue Metals being the other main players). Chances are any steel you have originated here.
Its a 2 hour flight to Karratha in the north of the state and yes, I took my camera 🙂
As luck would have it, I got a window seat and we took off to the south. Ok, there was no luck involved, I know they usually take off south and bank round the city before heading over the ocean and then back over land. And I checked in online the day before 🙂
Sorry about the picture quality, but I was taking these through the crappy plane window!
Perth is quite lovely from the air.
Its a bit barren when you get out over the outback
Interesting to see the landscape change – this is the remains of an ancient fold system, eroded flat so you can see the outlines and the core of the folds only. This is where the iron ore province starts, just south of Paraburdoo.
Its surprisingly green in places – we had a lot of rain in that region earlier in the year – I guess life is still making the most of it.
Then we approached Karratha and flew over the Rio Tinto Damper Salt evaporation ponds – they were kinda pretty and produce more than 4 million tonnes of salt per year
We then went to the Rio Tinto 7 Mile depot and maintenance yard where I had my meetings.
We got driven around the site for our induction – was very interesting driving through the yard access roads between the trains that were either queuing for access to one of the dumpers at Dampier or waiting to be driven back to the mines.
We went up to the old train control tower that overlooks the maintenance sheds and yard. It’s disused now as Rio Tinto relocated the entire train control operation down to a brand new facility in Perth, where they remotely manage and control all train movements over the entire Pilbara rail network – impressive stuff.
looking south over the yard and the ore cars lined up waiting after being maintained.
The entrance to the maintenance sheds – all the ore cars lined up in the various roads that lead to the specific servicing bays for the type of maintenance they need. The locos are also lined up, some refuelling, some waiting to be serviced, some waiting for a quick trip service before coupling up to a 2.4 km long line of 234 ore cars and heading back down to the mines.
Yours truly (squinting into the strong sun) in my lovely safety clothing stood next to an ore car. They’re bloody big things, carrying 112 tonnes of ore – it’s not hard to see why they need 3 locos coupled together to haul a fully loaded train carrying 30,000 tonnes of ore from the mines to the ports. Actually, in a couple of places, the gradient of the track means the loaded train needs a little extra help from 2 additional ‘banking’ locos which couple up to the back and give a little push.
One of the original Hamersley Iron locos on display at the entrance to the 7 Mile facility
And that was that – a day spent getting to see the operation first hand, speaking to the guys who run place, maintain the locos, the ore cars, look after the track and signals, roster the train crews, 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Makes my desk job in Perth look like a walk in the park.