Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Longest Ore Trains - Part 1

Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière’s Mauritanian (SNIM) CC115, London, Ontario, 1993. Just watched the BBC’s Michael Palin’s trip to the Sahara Desert on the Travel Channel this afternoon, and of course, the highlight of the program was a short segment on riding the SNIM ore train.

Billed as running the world’s longest standard gauge ore trains – hotly disputed by Australian interests – the Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM) operates in the Western Saharan desert country of Mauritania.

When one compares the “longest” train in the world, you have to separate out one-time-only experiments by various railroads to pull long trains, from those who run regularly scheduled day-to-day “unit” trains, comprised of hundreds of cars, that claim to be the longest.

Running some 870 miles round trip between the Zouérate Mining Area in Northern Mauritania to the port of Nouadhibou harbor facilities, the SNIM ore train one fascinating operation.

Two prominent mines include the Z Mine, and the La Grande Mine. These are massive iron ore mines in the middle of absolutely positively no-where, in the middle of a huge emptiness!

Three loaded ore trains and three empty ones run simultaneously. The trip from the mine to the port takes 16 hours travelling at a maximum speed of 30 mph for loaded trains, and 40 mph for empty returning trains. Due largely in part to the fact that the ties and rail are laying directly on the sand – with no ballast, the extreme weight of the train, and the pressure waves that ripple up and down the consist, due to the undilating profile.

Power packs consist of three highly customized General Motors SDL40-2’s manufactured to operate in extreme conditions of heat and sand, working up to 210 84-ton ore cars, and on some trains, two really spartan – not North Coast Limited specs - passenger coaches.

Here is the BBC’s Michael Palin (in blue shirt) describing getting aboard the SNIM ore train, from the “Sahara” program I watched today, showing the “First Class” accommodations! Stunning scenery, yes?

I highly recommend you take the time to read this reprint from Railway Age. Written by an independent contractor, hired by General Motors to re-assemble these machines once they arrived in Nouadhibou from London, Ontario, and place them in service!

He describes in great detail the protection of everything – traction motors, wheel journals, engine compartment and cab, and the operation of the large box air intakes for the locomotives, effects of high velocity sand on all components, and life aboard a hermetically sealed container-turned caboose, designed to keep the sand out!

Additional Reading: Geoff’s Travel Scrapbook - “The Iron Ore Train.” New York Times - “Tough Commute on a Train Not Meant for People.”

Railroad Stuff: Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière (SNIM) CC115, Built by General Motor’s Diesel Limited, London Ontario, SDL40-2, 3,000 hp, 9/93.

More Ore Trains: Part II

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