The most lucrative ore deposits in the world would be nothing without effective infrastructure. Mining them is one thing, but removing and transporting them is another thing entirely.
And this is where railways come in. As mining experts in South Africa, Scribante has extensive experience setting up infrastructure in new and existing mines. We felt it was time to highlight the key role railways play in the bigger picture.
How are Railways used in Mining?
Railways have multiple roles within the larger mining picture, but they all boil down to a single purpose: moving stuff around. Typically, this is ore, but can also be overburden, workers, and equipment. While larger mines might favor trucks and wagons, railways still have their place.
One undisputed role is transporting ores to ports and processing facilities. The benefit of using a freight railway is that it saves clogging up local roads, which may lack the infrastructure to support large-scale mining vehicles. In some of the more rural mines in Southern Africa, this is particularly true.
Railways provide more direct routes and, typically, exclusive use and access rights. This means a mine can transport ore more quickly and easily, if not only because wagons can be connected to different engines.
A Brief History of Railways in Mines
Mining gave rise to the first railways in history, although these were far more primitive than what we use today. The first railways in the most literal sense were built in Germany in the 16th century. They consisted of wooden rails and carts that were winched up and down.
Soon after, in 1605, the first funicular railway was invented in the UK. It was a simple cable car system for transporting coal down a hill to the nearby river. Funicular railways soared in popularity throughout Europe in the 17th century before being replaced by steam locomotives and iron tracks.
Other than improving materials and power sources, little else has changed between then and now. We still use railway infrastructure for much the same purpose as before, although electric power has made it vastly safer and easier.
One of the best examples in South Africa is the Sishen-Saldanha railway line, also known as the Ore Export Line. It stretches 861km from iron mines in Sishen to Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape. The train uses 375 wagons to transport 60 million tonnes of iron ore each year and is exclusively used as mining infrastructure. However, this pales in comparison to the ore trains used on the Mauritania Railway, which are up to 3km long!
Railways are vital infrastructure in almost every mine. Despite advances in technology, they still offer effective and reliable transportation for ore, waste materials, and equipment.
Scribante Group is a major player in the Southern Africa mining scene. We have helped set up and revive numerous mines, advising on infrastructure and mining practices. So, if you’re thinking of getting into mining in South Africa, get in touch to see how we can help.