WICET ready to load with first ship due today

NOTE: A sentence which referred to a disagreement between WICET and its construction partner John Holland, has been removed from this story. 

WICET and John Holland worked together closely to construct and commission a complex facility, including what is known as the gantry stacker, the largest of its type in the world. 

An agreement reached between all parties has seen completion targets met, which the companies say is a testament to the professionalism, dedication and efficiency of the combined WICET and John Holland teams. 


WIGGINS Island Coal Export Terminal in Gladstone has been stacking product coal for the past four weeks in preparation for its first shipment.

The first ship is due in port today, but it could take up to 10 days to commission and load the ship before it sets off. 

It has been 11 years since the $2.6 billion project was first mooted and its owners, who visited WICET last month, were excited to see the first piles of coal quickly growing at the stockyard.

All the conveyor belts are working after the first live test, including the 5.6km long overland conveyor from the loading area at the balloon loop that travels under Gladstone-Mt Larcom Rd to the stockyard.

One of the seven owners of the terminal, Caledon Coal, supplied 80,000 tonnes of bedding down coal, which is spread across the stockyard 300mm high as a base layer for the product coal to sit on.

WICET chief executive officer Robert Barnes said it was a great result the first time the belts were run with coal on them.

"A lot of people are pretty happy to be here and see it running. Even the owners, they were getting excited," he said.

"A lot of work has gone into making sure it would work correctly.

"Every train's been going through better and better, and the belts are running beautifully."

Rail operator Aurizon has been bringing coal to the port since last month.

In late March, a milestone was met when 11,000 tonnes was delivered on one train.

Aurizon ran its longest train ever through the central Queensland rail network to make the delivery.

The 2.3km train had 136 wagons and carried its 11,000 tonne cargo through the Blackwater rail system to WICET.

The average Aurizon train on the network has about 100 wagons and a payload of about 8500 tonnes of coal.

A week after the first load of coal arrives at the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal, dozers and trucks begin to move the coal to bed down the stockyard.
A week after the first load of coal arrives at the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal, dozers and trucks begin to move the coal to bed down the stockyard. Mara Pattison-Sowden

Mr Barnes said once the bedding coal was down, they would have a ramp-up period.

"After that, it's business as usual."

The loading chute, which takes the coal from the conveyor and loads it onto the ships, was being replaced last month by Walz Construction.

"If we didn't take it down, we could have been loading," he said. "But there was a lot of sensing work to be done."

There are up to 650 people still on-site, finishing work in various areas.

The first trial shipment was set back from November, but Mr Barnes was adamant the structure had been delivered within the scope, funding and timing.

"Four years ago, those dates were set and we've hit those," he said. "That rarely happens.

"This is a long-term project and at some time in the future we could have the authority to continue."

The coal unloading area at Wiggins Island Balloon Loop.
The coal unloading area at Wiggins Island Balloon Loop. Mara Pattison-Sowden

The current stage one completion means coal companies can export up to 27 million tonnes a year, but the full project could take it to 120 million tonnes.

"We're ready for expansion," Mr Barnes said.

WICET has all the environmental and operating permits in place to increase the capacity to 84 million tonnes per annum.

"The project now is going to be ready for the upturn in the price," he said.

"In five years time, people will be looking back talking about how smart these companies are.

"When the price is ready, the owners will be ready, and they'll be the ones that want to expand.

"It's nice to say the first coal's a hit but the shipment is the big one," Mr Barnes said.