Integrated Rail Planning Across the Central Queensland Coal Network

Aurizon Network (AN), the owner-operator of the Central Queensland Coal Network (CQCN), one of the world's largest interconnected coal rail networks, recently completed a pilot program using RACE, Polymathian's rail optimisation software. The program sought to improve the weekly rail planning process to increase system utilisation, throughput, and stakeholder collaboration. By implementing sophisticated optimisation software, AN was able to replace a lengthy manual planning process with an automated way to produce optimised rail plans.

The previous planning process required each haulage provider who needed access to the network to submit an independently produced schedule to AN, which was then consolidated with the other haulage providers' plans to create a master schedule, which required a complex deconflicting process. This process took days to complete, with several iterations of the plan often being rejected before receiving approval.

AN looked to replace this manual planning with a technology solution that could navigate the highly complex process. The solution needed to ensure system contractual obligations were met, extensive system constraints were considered and commercially sensitive information from the haulage providers was dealt with correctly. These planning parameters were currently met under the manual process; however, it took tens of hours to produce. More importantly, there was no way to quantify if the plans created were optimal (maximising throughput and asset utilisation).

The implementation of the RACE Planning module proved to be the right software solution to overcome the massive complexities of the rail network's planning process. RACE uses mathematical optimisation to create a model of the system objectives (i.e., throughput and utilisation), variables (i.e., contractual demand and cycle chosen) and constraints (i.e., track maintenance), which are then "solved" to produce plans that ensure the system is running at optimal capacity. Additionally, the plans are made in hours instead of days.

With the valuable time gained, the AN planning team can now leverage their knowledge to make more strategic planning decisions. RACE allows the team to run various scenarios to understand system variables better. For instance, they can run scenarios to decide when best to schedule track maintenance to ensure the least amount of disruption across the network.

The award-winning pilot program is now complete, and because of its success, AN submitted amendments to the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) regarding its operating and access rules. The changes include RACE as integral to their network's efficient planning and utilisation.

In response, the QCA issued a draft decision to approve the amendments related to the IRP, noting that "In our view, it is appropriate for [haulage providers] participation to be mandatory to ensure complete information is provided for planning purposes…."

RACE Product Leader Henry Chladil said of the decision, "This is an excellent outcome for Aurizon Network and its stakeholders. It validates using RACE as a planning and scheduling optimisation software and showcases how beneficial it can be when implemented collaboratively."

Henry went on to say, "The software developers and mathematicians who designed and built RACE should be proud of the innovation they've delivered to the bulk rail industry. It's truly a world first."

Update - 29 November 2022

The Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) has approved Aurizon Networks' proposed amendments to its system rules. The requested changes stem from the integrated rail plan (IRP) pilot program, which introduced Polymathian's rail optimisation software to the planning and scheduling process across the Central Queensland Coal Network.

QCA's final decision states that the IRP-related amendments should improve network operations and access holders' ability to utilise their entitlements while promoting system throughput through better demand management. The final decision also noted that it would be appropriate for participation to be mandatory. The new system rules go into effect on 5 December.

Click to read the entire decision from QCA.

Learn more about RACE.

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