Coal train dust management

Measures have included

Literature review

The 2014 Literature Review of Coal Train Dust Management Practices (PDF 2.93MB) describes and evaluates measures used nationally and internationally to control coal dust emissions from trains, due to

  • loading and unloading coal
  • wind erosion from coal in wagons
  • coal spillage in the rail corridor

It focuses on measures relevant to the Hunter Valley rail corridor and other coal rail corridors in NSW.

Australian Rail Track Corporation Report

To investigate the levels of dust generated by coal train movements in the Hunter region, the NSW EPA issued the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) with two pollution reduction programs (PRPs) that required ARTC to install dust monitoring stations along the Hunter Valley line to monitor dust generated by different train movements.

The aim of the study was to see if loaded coal trains emitted more particle pollution than other trains. The main finding of the study, verified by independent review and statistical reanalyses, was that that there was no appreciable difference between the dust levels measured from the movement of loaded coal trains and other types of freight trains.

The timeline summarises the analyses and reports:


September 2011 and October 2012  - EPA issues pollution reduction programs to ARTC for monitoring and follow-up monitoring.

May 2013 - ARTC releases report based on monitoring data collected.

June 2013 - Peer review by Dr Luke Knibbs finds errors in ARTC’s report and recommends that additional statistical analysis is undertaken.

Aug 2013 Professor Louise Ryan, Distinguished Professor of Statistics, UTS, reviews the statistical analyses in the report and recommends a reanalysis of the data.

Aug 2014 The EPA engages Professor Ryan to reanalyse the data in the ARTC report. Her findings largely support the conclusions of ARTC’s study. Download the re-analysis report, Re-analysis of ARTC data on Particulate Emissions from Coal Trains (PDF 600KB)

  • loaded coal trains, empty coal trains and freight trains are associated with a statistically significant increase (approximately 10%) in particulate matter compared with background levels
  • there is no evidence supporting differences between loaded coal trains, empty coal trains or freight trains with respect to associated levels of particulates

Professor Ryan hypothesises that diesel fuel emissions are the cause of the increases in particulate matter.

Sep 2014 The EPA requests further analysis of the data to qualify the hypothesis.

June 2015 Professor Ryan’s re-analysis is completed, finding that neither coal dust nor diesel fuel have a significant effect on airborne particulate matter concentrations.

Final analysis

Professor Ryan’s findings concluded that particulate increases are not likely to be caused by diesel exhaust emissions from trains, but by particulate matter being stirred up from the rail tracks as trains passed by.

  • The number of trains had no impact on particulate levels. This dispels, to some extent, the hypothesis that diesel exhaust was responsible for much of the observed increases in particulate levels associated with trains passing.
  • Whether it had rained the previous day had a significant impact on particulate levels, indicating the increased particulate levels were caused by trains stirring up dust that had settled earlier.

Although diesel particulates were not specifically identified in the statistical analysis, diesel combustion is a well-established and quantifiable source of fine particle emissions.


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