Hauling coal at the Bowen Rail Company

There is a new rail operator in Australia called the Bowen Rail Company, and they’re keeping quiet about two facts – the cargo they haul, and who their parent company is. But why?


Bowen Rail Company photo

Let’s take a look

Off to the Bowen Rail Company website – “Queensland’s next-generation rail freight business”.

Named for the Whitsunday town of Bowen, the company says “We aim to support the community of Bowen and help drive economic prosperity for the region.”

They were “created to transport Queensland’s high quality resources for export to the world“.

Their operations are “safe, environmentally responsible and efficient“.

And finally an answer to what they are transporting – export coal from Bravus Mining and Resources’ Carmichael Mine in the Galilee Basin!

You’d be hard pressed to find a mention of coal on their website.

The only other mention being a September 2021 media release titled “State-of-the-art Bowen Rail locomotives arrive to transport Carmichael coal”.

And a November 2021 piece simply titled “Statement on dangerous protest activity“.

Which speaks of nothing except protesters targeting their coal trains.

So why does the Bowen Rail Company exist?

Their “what we do” page has some cryptic clues.

The Bowen Rail Company is Queensland’s next-generation rail business, created to transport Queensland’s high-quality resources for export to the world.

Their area of operation.

Bowen Rail Company will operate on the Carmichael Rail Network; a 200km narrow gauge railway that connects Queensland’s Galilee Basin to existing rail infrastructure and the North Queensland Export Terminal.

And their “foundation customer”.

The Carmichael Rail Network is part of the Bravus Mining and Resources’ Carmichael Project and the Carmichael Mine will be the railway’s foundation customer.

But to find the real answer, you need to look elsewhere – such as this September 2020 exclusive by ABC News.

The Adani group has launched its own rail business to haul coal to its Queensland port, while avoiding any public mention of the parent company or the controversial Carmichael mine.

It follows years of pressure from anti-coal activists that has prompted a string of potential Adani contractors to walk away from the mining giant, increasing the cost of doing business.

Bowen Rail Company (BRC) last month announced it was launching a haulage business to service Abbot Point export terminal.

Head of project delivery, David Wassell, said the company had bought its own “state-of-the-art locomotives and rollingstock” and would recruit about 50 workers.

Neither the media release nor the company website mention Adani or the Carmichael mine.

But company searches show BRC is owned by an Adani group company in India, Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited, via two holding companies in Singapore.

The searches show the directors of BRC are all senior Adani staff in Australia.

So Bowen Rail Company is just a shell company of Adani Mining, proponent of the massively controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, created because no other Australian rail operator would touch the project with a ten foot pole.

So how did Adani get so desperate?

Protests against coal mining are nothing new – including the blocking of railways used to export coal.

Break Free Australia - 8th May
Break Free Australia photo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

But Adani’s plans to build the massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland saw everyday people join the protests, not just hardcore activists.

20171017-StopAdani-Downer-Somerton-0102  IMG_4861
John Englart photo (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Protesters not just targeting Adani, but companies who could become involved in the project, such as mining services companies.

Embattled Indian miner Adani says it will build and run Australia’s biggest coal venture in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin on its own after parting ways with mining services giant Downer.

On Monday, Adani released a statement revealing both parties had cancelled a conditional $2.6 billion contract as part of Adani’s cost-cutting drive spurred on by the Queensland Government’s veto of its $1 billion Commonwealth loan bid.

The split comes after Downer was the target of a nationwide activist campaign pressuring them to quit the Carmichael project in central Queensland.

And banks that could help fund the project.

Australia’s big four banks have all ruled out funding or withdrawn from Adani’s Queensland coal project, after Westpac said it would not back opening up new coalmining regions.

NAB ruled out funding the Carmichael project in September 2015, a month after Commonwealth Bank parted ways with Adani as project finance adviser.

The CEO of ANZ, Shayne Elliott, in effect ruled out financing the mine last December when he predicted a downward shift in the bank’s exposure to coalmining would continue for the foreseeable future.

By 2018 this saw the scope of the project being cut.

The controversial mine in the Galilee Basin has been scaled back significantly from earlier plans, following years of legal and environmental disputes.

Adani Mining chief executive officer Lucas Dow said the mine would initially begin on a small scale and “ramp up” to a capacity of 27.5 million tonnes a year — less than half the size of the approved project.

This cut also included the rail portion of the project.


ABC News graphic

Dumping their plans for a dedicated railway, and instead connecting to the existing Aurizon network.

Adani has ditched plans to build a new rail line from Abbot Point to get coal out of Queensland’s Galilee Basin, opting for a cut-price solution using existing lines.

The Indian miner had planned to build a new 388km line from its controversial Carmichael mine to Abbot Point for export, but now says it will “instead leverage existing rail infrastructure”.

The new proposal will make use of the existing Aurizon rail infrastructure that runs to Abbot Point. A new narrow-gauge rail line of about 200 km would be constructed to connect the existing network to the Carmichael mine site, reducing the length of the track Adani would have to build by 188km, and significantly reducing the cost.

Adani’s original proposal was for a 388km standard gauge track that was expected to cost $2.3bn.

Adani stating.

“By connecting to the existing network we can fast-track project delivery, reduce capital expenditure and deliver coal more quickly to countries in Asia,” Adani Mining’s chief executive, Lucas Dow, said in a statement on Thursday. “We’re 100% committed to getting the Carmichael project off the ground.”

The company said its Plan B solution would follow the same route, meaning existing approvals and land use agreements could be used.

Aurizon was the frontrunner to haul coal for Adani, so was soon targeted by activists.

Aurizon’s annual general meeting, held in Brisbane today, was dominated by concerns over Aurizon’s potential involvement in the destructive Adani Carmichael coal project.

Both shareholders inside the meeting and #StopAdani activists outside called on the rail freight company to refuse to provide coal haulage services to Adani, or invest any shareholder capital in rail upgrades necessary for the Adani project.

So was Genesee & Wyoming Australia, who was the first rail operator to bow out in August 2019.

The ABC has learned Genesee & Wyoming Australia (GWA) declined to participate in the Carmichael coal project, after Adani approached it to supply coal haulage services from its planned mine.

“GWA has previously been approached to service the Adani Carmichael project and we have decided not to participate,” the company confirmed in a statement to the ABC.

But Pacific National didn’t rule out getting involved.

Pacific National, the major rail freight company in NSW and the fastest growing in Queensland, told the ABC: “We haul coal, that’s what we do.”

“We wouldn’t rule out dealing with Adani or any other mining company that had the necessary approvals,” the company said.

But the situation for Aurizon was was not so clear cut, thanks to their role as manager of the Queensland rail network.

Aurizon is legally obliged by the Queensland Competition Authority to consider and assess the request by Adani to access the network. Both companies are bound to keep discussions about access confidential.

A sticking point being who would fund upgrades to the existing network.

The capacity of the existing Goonyella to Abbot Point line would need to be increased to carry coal from Carmichael, based on current freight volumes. The line has capacity to freight 50m tonnes per annum and currently carries about 28mtpa for companies that have contracts to export through the Abbot Point terminal.

Adani plans an initial expansion of Abbot Point to 60mtpa and plans to ultimately mine and export 27mtpa from Carmichael. The Goonyella line does not have the capacity to service an expanded port, or the Carmichael mine at peak production.

Adani also says its planned spur line will have additional capacity to provide access to other potential future mines in the Galilee Basin. Any additional coal freight from the Galilee would necessitate a more significant upgrade of the Goonyella railway.

Aurizon said it could not comment on any potential access request by Adani or subsequent discussions with the company due to confidentiality restrictions put in place by the QCA. But the rail operator did provide a statement that explained the process if any expansion to its infrastructure was required.

“The process includes assessment of potential future demand from other users of the particular coal system; and the scope of expansion required, how it connects to the network and how it will be funded,” a spokesman said.

But that’s not the end of it

On the construction front, they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find someone to build the new line – signing a deal in October 2019 with a tiny company called Martinus Rail.

Adani’s announcement on October 18 that it had awarded a $100 million contract to Martinus to build a 200-kilometre rail line from the Carmichael mine to existing rail tracks operated by Aurizon came just two weeks after Malaysian engineering group Gamuda Berhad acquired a 50 per cent stake in the NSW group.

Gamuda’s overseas investors and staff are likely to be less susceptible than Australian investors and workers to pressure from activists opposing the Carmichael mine, which is moving ahead with construction after receiving final environmental approvals.

Several companies with big Australian operations, including engineering groups Aurecon and Cardno, have ruled themselves out of working on the Carmichael project after being targeted by activists.

Ownership of which was uncertain.

It is unclear who has ultimate control of Martinus. Neither Gamuda or Martinus responded to requests from The Australian Financial Review for comment.

Martinus does not file financial statements with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, which until June 2019 required accounts to be submitted from companies with consolidated revenues of $25 million or more. The revenue threshold was raised to $50 million in July.

But their construction partner pulled out in September 2020.

Malaysian engineering firm Gamuda has ditched plans to buy half of Australian rail firm Martinus Rail, which has the contract to build 200km of rail connecting Indian firm Adani’s proposed 10mn t/yr Carmichael thermal coal project in the Galilee basin in northwest Queensland to the existing network.

Raising questions as to whether they could even complete the work.

The deal leaves Martinus, which in April secured a second contract with Adani to build A$220mn worth of infrastructure associated with the Adani railway, with limited financial backing to complete these major projects. Martinus has not carried out any new projects previously the size of the Adani rail connector, with the main project featured on its website being a 12.6km dual-track heavy gauge passenger line in the Moreton Bay region of Queensland.

In November 2020 Adani Australia rebranded to ‘Bravus’.

India’s Adani Enterprises has changed the name of its Australian unit to Bravus Mining and Resources.

The rebrand comes as the miner readies to ship out its first coal next year in the face of years of vocal opposition from climate change activists, whose catch cry “Stop Adani” became a marketing slogan emblazoned on t-shirts and earrings.

“We will continue to stand up and deliver for the good of our community, no matter how courageous it requires us to be, and Bravus, our new name, reflects this intent,” Chief Executive David Boshoff said in a statement.

Then in July 2021 parent company Adani Ports transferred the Bowen Rail Company to another Adani subsidiary.

Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone (Adani Ports) has announced in its latest Annual Report (page 129) that after setting up the haulage operation for the controversial Carmichael coal project under the Bowen Rail Company (BRC), it is transferring the ownership of BRC to another Adani subsidiary, Adani Enterprises. The significant ownership transfer is being made after Adani Ports’ Sustainability & CSR Committee determined that Adani Ports “will divest its investments in [BRC] to fulfil Carbon Neutral Commitments”.

But despite all of this, on 18 November 2021 the Bowen Rail Company ran their first test train.

The media release still pretending the companies are not related.

This achievement is a shared celebration between two of Adani Australia’s companies; Bowen Rail Company which provides rail haulage operations, and Bravus Mining and Resources.

But no mention of how much of the 200 kilometre long Carmichael Rail Network was still to be complete.

Footnote: other Australian rail operators hauling coal

Pacific National has been hauling coal in the Hunter Valley for decades, having inherited contracts from the State Rail Authority of NSW.

I.D. No 14451 (914) 10-04-2013 Pacific National diesel locomotives 8217 + 8218 + 8253 + 8221 up coal Wambo to Port Kembla The train is nearing railway station Lochinvar, in the Hunter Valley west of Newcastle, N.S.W., Australia.
John Ward photo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

But has since expanded their operations into Queensland.


Rod Williams video

Aurizon is the other big player, getting their start hauling coal all over Queensland for decades as Queensland Rail.

Using both electric and diesel locomotives.

Aurizon 4123 trails a coal train on the Newlands System

And expanding into the NSW Hunter Valley in the 2000s.

08645 (212) 15-04-2009 QR National 5002 + 5007 work a down empty coal train that is passing the railway station at East Maitland, N.S.W. Australia.
John Ward photo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

One Rail Australia (formerly Genesee & Wyoming Australia) saw the money to be made in moving coal, and also moved into the Hunter Valley.

XRN 027
Hugh Llewelyn photo (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Southern Shorthaul Railroad has won coal haulage contracts in the Lithgow area of NSW.


Rod Williams video

And finally a parallel with the Bowen Rail Company – Xstrata. Dissatisfied with the incumbent rail operators, in 2010 they bought their own locomotives and rolling stock to bypass them entirely.

14435 (913) 10-04-2013 Xstrata diesel locomotives XRN 024 + XRN 017 + XRN 001 down empty coal train approaching railway station High Street, Maitland, N.S.W., Australia.
John Ward photo (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

And Whitehaven Coal, who bought their own locomotives and wagons in 2011 – but unbranded, in an attempt to avoid unwanted attention.


PoathTV – Australian Trains video

A few regulatory footnotes

Bowen Rail Company Pty Ltd was registered as a company on 16 December 2019 – ACN 638 074 889. Their ABN is 77 638 074 889 and it has been active from 7 January 2020.

They were accredited as a rolling stock operator by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator in 27 October 2021.

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6 Responses to “Hauling coal at the Bowen Rail Company”

  1. Paul Westcott says:

    Revealing and well researched. Thanks Marcus.

  2. Liam says:

    The ASIC register simply lists
    Financial Report (388)
    Financial Report – Small Proprietary Company That Is (388I)
    Controlled By a Foreign Company.

    https://connectonline.asic.gov.au/RegistrySearch/faces/landing/panelSearch.jspx?searchText=638074889&searchType=OrgAndBusNm&_adf.ctrl-state=1d7us2we30_15

    Might look at the report, find out who their suppliers are.

  3. I submitted my final comments in support of my request for declaration of Adani’s rail corridor as a service to the Queensland Competition Authority on October 27, 2021, the same day Bowen Rail Company were accredited as an RSO. The Queensland treasurer is currently considering the recommendations of the QCA following my request. https://www.qca.org.au/project/declared-infrastructure/ I believe the QCA made recommendations on the basis of my request because I accurately described the facility as being the North Galilee Basin Rail Project (Plan B) connecting to Separable Portion 1 of the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project. The proponent for rail for the NGBR and CCMR-SP1 is Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd who were accredited as a ‘rail transport operator’ by Qld-DTMR in May 2017, a year before they were first listed as Adani’s rail proponent. You can read about the development of the Adani shell company, Carmichael Rail Network on my blog ‘We Suspect Silence’. I began my blog shortly after I left Galilee Blockade which I cofounded in 2014 after being a shareholder activist against Aurizon. https://wesuspectsilence.wordpress.com/2020/01/30/stealthing-the-adani-shell-company-key-dates-for-carmichael-rail-network-pty-ltd/

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