• 2017 July 13

    Easy coal handling solutions?

    Amid the environmental row related to coal transshipment via the Far Eastern ports of Russia and drafting of laws that offer a radical solution with a ban on open storage/transshipment of coal, Russian Railways has unintentionally “pointed” to a more workable solution associated with the capacity limitations.

    To counter non-dedicated terminals

    For the summer period of infrastructure repairs at railways running towards the Far East, Russian Railways has drastically curtailed the volume of cargo transported to the coal terminals in the region. As the coal market players told IAA PortNews, Russian Railways announced in July that daily reduction of export coal transportation will make about 82,000 t (1,170 wagons). This will affect all coal terminals of the Far East regardless the method of coal transshipment and technologies of environment protection applied there.

    For example, Trade Port Posiet will get only 87.4% of the required volume, Vostochny Port – 71.9%, Daltransugol – 95.9%.

    The region numbers 18 coal terminals with most of them (excluding Trade Port Posiet, Vostochny Port and Daltransugol) operating in the old-fashioned way involving grabbing as they were not initially dedicated for coal transshipment and embarked on this activity when the moment arose. Grabbing is the basic cause of dust and railcar damage.

    Meanwhile, the environmental concern in the region is very high today and the issue of unsafe transshipment of coal was raised during the Direct Line with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The draft law initiated by a group of State Duma Deputies offers complete ban on open transshipment/storage of coal at terminals located within the boundaries of inhabited localities. If the bill is passed the terminals will have to be rebuilt to ensure closed storage of coal. As the saying runs, they will throw the baby out with the bathwater and this measure will affect those who had invested in state-of-the-art technologies and environment protection systems. That will result in suspension of such terminals’ operation with a negative effect on the entire coal industry of the country and with foreign companies taking over this share of the global market.

    Instead, here is an easier solution. Russian Railways is a state company and it can be charged with applying public-oriented solutions. If coal transportation is limited anyway, why not distribute this reduction with consideration of terminals’ efforts towards safe transshipment and compliance with environmental and other requirements? The more so as the railway company is interested in grabbing not to be applied for unloading of their railcars. 

    With this simple regulation, the owners of the terminals would be encouraged to introduce new technologies and coal transshipment would concentrate in technologically advanced dedicated ports. Non-dedicated terminals filling the air with coal dust would have to either close or invest in proper technologies to become a dedicated facility. That could be a solution to environmental problems related to coal handling without radical measures threatening to destroy domestic coal industry in favor of foreign competitors.

    Vitaly Chernov