Since 2021, Russian-made rolling stock with an axle load of 25 tonnes has been operated on the Mongolian railway network. The freight cars have been supplied by the United Wagon Company (UWC) Rail Group. Several companies from around the world competed for the right to supply to Mongolia. Why the choice fell on UWC freight cars and operating experience, we asked Erdenebayar Banzragch, Project Director at Bodi International, LLC.
Mongolian railway network
Erdenebayar, could you tell us, please, about the development of the railway transportation market in Mongolia? How is the railway infrastructure developing? What role does the railway play in Mongolia?
The railway transport plays an important role with approximately three-quarters of freight traffic in the country carried by rail. At present, the Mongolian railway network has 4 infrastructure owners. Its total length is 2,900 km. At the same time, more than 900 km of tracks have been built in the last 2 years.
Railways appeared in Mongolia in 1938: the first line was narrow-gauge (750 mm) and served to transport coal to the capital. Subsequently, lines with a gauge of 1520 mm were built. Since 1949, the construction of the Mongolian railway network has been carried out by the Ulaanbaatar Railway, which has a share in railway traffic to Naushki and Erlyan.
In 2010, the State Great Khural of Mongolia (Parliament – Editor’s note) approved the “State Policy on Railways” to expand the integrated railway network, use large mineral deposits and export products from these deposits. New sections of railways are constructed in several stages.
As part of this decision, starting from 2019, 267 km of the Tavan Tolgoi – Gashuunsukhait section (Tavan Tolgoi is a coal deposit in the south of Mongolia, in the Gobi Desert, one of the largest reserves in the world, 6.5 billion tonnes of coal, about 40% of which is high-calorific coking coal – Editor’s note), 416 km of the Dzhunbayan – Tavan Tolgoi section and 280 km of the Dzhungbayan – Khangi section have already been built. On these rail sections, it is planned to transport an average of 50-60 million tonnes of cargoes per year, using about 80% of the cargo fleet for the transportation of mining freights from Mongolia to China.
The Ulaanbaatar railway currently in use is about 1,810 km long and transports up to 35 million tonnes of cargoes per year, of which up to 80% of the total transported freights are mining products. Most of the products are delivered to China in gondola cars and container flat cars.
In total, the railway network of Mongolia operates 11.7 thousand freight cars, of which 2.4 thousand units rented in Russia. A fleet of 6.4 thousand gondola cars and 3.3 thousand container flat cars is used to transport goods of the mining industry. About 30% of the entire freight car fleet in Mongolia has already exhausted its resource.
The new sections of the Mongolian railway network are designed and built taking into account the peculiarities of heavy haul traffic: they can operate freight cars with an axle load of 25 tonnes. Investments that are currently directed to the development of coal and iron ore deposits in Mongolia are already creating additional demand for the development of railway projects, in particular for the purchase of freight rolling stock and the construction of railway tracks.
As the railway industry develops, we will increase the fleet of the heavy haul traction and freight rolling stock
According to forecasts, the Tavan Tolgoi – Gashuunsukhait section of the railway will play an important role in the economy of Mongolia, and the cost of coal transportation may be reduced by almost 4 times. There are plans to build additional branches to this section of the railway, one of which will lead to the site of the important mining enterprise Oyu Tolgoi, LLC, which owns one of the largest copper deposits in the world.
In the medium term, as part of the expansion of the Mongolian railway network and border crossings, it is planned to build an additional 1,375 km of rail track: 960 km in the direction of Tavan Tolgoi – Khuut, 185 km in the direction of Khuut – Choibalsan and 230 km in the direction of Khuut – Bichigt.
Could you tell us what kind of freight cars are operating in your company’s fleet?
Since the implementation of the Tavan Tolgoi – Gashuunsukhait railway project began, our company Bodi International has been systematically building up its freight fleet with rolling stock with an axle load of 25 tonnes. To date, we have acquired more than 500 of these freight cars manufactured by UWC. In the third quarter of this year, an additional delivery of another 300 (gondola) cars is planned.
As the railway industry develops, we will increase the fleet of the heavy haul traction and freight rolling stock. In particular, we are planning to acquire about 500 more freight cars and 3 mainline locomotives.
Cooperation with the United Wagon Company for the supply of freight cars on 25-tonne axle load bogie began in 2020. What selection criteria have become the key ones for you?
We needed, by our standards, a fairly large batch of gondola cars – about 800 units with a delivery period of several years. Several companies from around the world competed for the right to supply freight rolling stock to us.
The decision to select a particular supplier was made based on a thorough analysis of the freight cars’ specifications: compliance with the general technical requirements of the Tavan Tolgoi – Gashuunsukhait railway section, laws, regulations and standards of the freight transport in Mongolia. We gave particular attention to the payload capacity and axle load of the freight car, overhaul run and service life.
In terms of the combination of specifications met, gondola cars manufactured by UWC were recognized as superior to those of other tender participants
What are the specific features of freight cars supplied by UWC that differ them from other freight cars in your fleet? To what extent do they meet your expectations?
First of all, it is worth saying that freight cars with an axle load of 25 tonnes have been used in Mongolia to carry cargo only since 2021, replacing the 23.5-tonne axle load rolling stock. It became possible due to the construction of new railway infrastructure. On the old railway sections, standard old-style freight cars are still in operation.
Freight cars with an axle load of 25 tonnes allow to significantly increase the capacity of the railway network due to their increased payload capacity, supporting the growing volumes of export shipments, in particular to China, and transit. UWC-produced freight cars meet our requirements for payload capacity and speed. They have already been field-tested in our conditions and have been operating reliably in our fleet for more than 2 years.
What kind of UWC-produced freight cars are already operating in your company’s fleet? Which routes do they travel?
The UWC Rail Group supplied us with 100 gondola cars, 390 container and 13 multi-purpose flat cars, and 8 box cars. All rolling stock is equipped with bogies with an axle load of 25 tonnes.
Gondola cars and container flat cars are used to transport freights of the mining industry, in particular coal, on the Tavan Tolgoi – Gashuunsukhait railway section. As the fleet increases, the amount of cargo transported along this branch is also growing, approaching the target level.
Talking specifically about the UWC-produced gondola cars in our fleet, we have already seen that they stand out from the old-style gondola cars widely represented in Mongolia.
UWC gondola cars, owing to their increased reliability and fault tolerance, have had their service life for the Mongolian market extended by 10 years, and the overhaul period extended by 5 years, which reduces the frequency of scheduled maintenance operations by 4 times. The payload capacity of such a gondola car has been increased by 6 tonnes.
These and other technical specifications of UWC gondola cars will allow us to reduce the cost of unscheduled and scheduled maintenance and repairs by up to 80%, and are already saving us almost 10% on the freight charge per tonne of cargo.
As for maintenance and repairs, how is this service for Russian-produced freight cars organized in Mongolia?
To organize the repair and maintenance of 25-tonne axle load freight cars, a service center with the equipment necessary for maintenance is now being established. Its planned capacity is 6 freight cars per day. The servicing process is built in accordance with the technical requirements and standards of the freight car supplier.
We would like to add that delegates of our company, as well as representatives of Mongolian railways, completed a training course in Russia, at the Tikhvin Industrial Site, where these freight cars are manufactured (Tikhvin Industrial Site is the production center of the UWC Rail Group – Editor’s note). Our railway specialists participated in the bogie dismantling and assembling processes, repairs of wheel sets, brake equipment, a freight car body, and also studied the requirements for scheduled depot maintenance. We look forward to a fruitful development of our cooperation with UWC.