Rail corridor scientific evidence

Research indicates that coal trains do not have significant impact on air quality around the rail corridor

Coal dust is a form of particulate matter. Particulate matter, or ‘PM’, is the range of particles that exist in the air we breathe from sources such as sea spray, bushfire and domestic woodheater smoke, vehicles, power stations, mining, agriculture and other wind-generated dust. More information on particulate matter can be found in the NSW Health Fact Sheet Mine Dust and You.
There is a range of air quality evidence available in the Hunter Valley region that indicates coal trains are not having a significant impact on air quality.
Scientific evidence does not support wagon covers
There have been some vocal campaigns run to introduce covers on coal wagons. However, independent assessment of the scientific evidence demonstrates these calls are unjustified. In its review of Port Waratah Coal Services’ Terminal 4 proposal, the independent Planning Assessment Commission concluded “There is little or no evidence that uncovered wagons contribute significantly to particulate air quality in the Newcastle area and there is no justification for recommending that wagons be covered.” (Source: www.pac.nsw.gov.au)
Wind tunnel testing indicates a low risk of dust emissions from NSW coal types
Wind tunnel testing of a range of NSW coal types has shown that the coal types tested posed a low risk of dust emissions during transport. The research found that the moisture content in the coal was sufficient to minimise potential dust emissions under typical Hunter Valley operating conditions.
The results of the wind tunnel testing do not indicate that additional mitigation measures such as spraying the surface of wagons with dust suppressants is required.

Air quality in Newcastle has met national air quality standards 9 of the last 10 years

Australia has some of the most stringent air quality standards in the world. Air quality in the Lower Hunter and Newcastle region is good and meets these strict standards the vast majority of the time. Over the 10 years from 2006 to 2015, national annual air quality standards for PM10 were met at the three NSW Office of Environment and Heritage monitors in the Newcastle and Lower Hunter region every year except 2009 when dust storms affected air quality across NSW.
This is comparable to other locations in NSW. A report prepared by the Office of Environment and Heritage in 2012 concluded that “Overall air quality in the Lower Hunter is as good – or better than – air quality in Sydney and the Illawarra.” (Source

Air quality has remained stable while coal exports have grown substantially

While coal exports from Newcastle grew by around 60% between 2010 and 2014, air quality in the region remained stable over the same period. This does not indicate any correlation between activity on the coal export supply chain and regional air quality.

‘Coal dust’ makes up less than 14% of fine particulates in Newcastle

There are many sources of particulate matter in the Newcastle region including mines, industrial premises, rail transport, port facilities, agriculture, shipping, rubber particles from tyres, vehicle emissions, sea spray and bushfires.
Independent sampling and analysis at Mayfield of PM2.5 - the smallest particles of greatest health concern - by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) between 1998-2009 has shown that automobiles (27%), secondary sources (23%), smoke (20%) and sea salt spray (16%) are the major sources of PM2.5. Industry and soil combined make up 14%, of which coal dust is a proportion along with industrial facilities and agriculture.  Source. 

Monitoring along the rail corridor indicates air quality is comparable to the broader region

Long term monitoring at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Beresfield monitor, less than 400m from the rail line, shows that national air quality standards for PM10 have been met 9 of the last 10 years. The only year when standards were exceeded was 2009, when significant dust storms affected air quality across the state. Source.

Trackside monitoring by Pacific National since December 2012, and trackside monitoring by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) for two separate periods totalling 97 days, also indicates air quality along the rail corridor meets national air quality standards.

Monitoring shows more dust settles next to the highway than the railway

Two dust deposition gauges have measured the amount of dust that settles each month at two locations in Thornton since January 1997 - one next to the rail corridor and another 1.2 kilometres away next to the New England Highway. Dust deposition is a measure of amenity.

The results show that both gauges meet annual regulatory standards for amenity and, on average, more dust settles at the monitor next to the highway than at the monitor next to the rail corridor. These monitoring results show that dust levels next to the rail corridor aren’t necessarily higher than other parts of the region and meet the annual amenity standards. 

There is little difference in the dust generated by coal, and freight trains

Two separate monitoring studies have been completed for ARTC, each by different experts. Both studies found little difference in the dust generated by different types of passing trains, whether they be loaded or unloaded coal trains, freight trains or passenger trains - suggesting that most dust is stirred up from the ground along the rail corridor. Source, additional source

Independent statistical analysis of one of these studies was conducted by Professor Louise Ryan from UTS for the NSW Environment Protection Authority.  The analysis found that coal trains and freight trains both increase particulate levels by approximately 10% on average. This is a relatively minor, temporary increase in particulate matter levels within the rail corridor as coal and freight trains pass by. It does not indicate that dust from coal trains has a significant effect on ambient air quality outside the rail corridor. Source  

Several Queensland studies have not found significant impacts from coal trains

While studies undertaken in Queensland are not directly transferrable to NSW due to differences in weather conditions, coal types, travel distances and other conditions, the trackside monitoring conducted in Queensland’s central and south west systems have found that coal dust from trains does not significantly contribute to ambient particulate levels along the rail corridor. Source 

A video on coal train dust produced by train operator Aurizon based on Queensland studies can be seen here.

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