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Air quality monitoring of coal dust in rail corridors

A review of air quality monitoring studies in rail corridors and around rail systems has shown that while coal dust and the influence of coal trains on dust levels has been detected, the levels of total dust (including coal dust) are well below air quality objectives for the protection of human health and amenity impacts.

The studies showed that outside a rail corridor—defined as approximately 10 metres from the tracks—coal dust concentrations are much lower than inside the corridor and considerably lower than air quality objectives for the protection of human health and amenity.

Air quality monitoring adjacent to rail corridors in urban areas shows that the majority of insoluble dustfall (coarse dust from all sources) is made up of mineral dust (soil and rock) at levels up to 50% or more. Coal dust composition can be 10–20%.

Other typical dustfall components include black rubber dust (from motor vehicle tyre wear) 10%, and other biological dust (plant and insect fragments) and organic matter (wood, fibres, paint, lawn clippings) at 10–15%.

Below is a guide to coal dust and the monitoring that is taking place along the South West–Metropolitan rail corridor.

Download the rail corridor coal dust monitoring fact sheet (PDF, 71K) for more information.

Air quality monitoring reports

Western–Metropolitan Rail Corridor

The Queensland Resources Council commissioned a coal dust monitoring program in response to coal dust complaints associated with rail transport along the Western–Metropolitan rail system, which is used by trains hauling coal from mines in the Clarence–Moreton and Surat basins in southern Queensland to the Port of Brisbane. The independent monitoring program is being conducted by scientists within DSITIA. The monitoring program is being conducted in three stages:

  1. pre-veneering monitoring (March to April 2013)
  2. post-veneering monitoring (May to June 2013)
  3. continuous monitoring program over a period of 12 months.
Pre- and post-veneering monitoring programs

The pre-veneering monitoring report (PDF) is available at the Queensland Resources Council’s website.

Read the post-veneering monitoring report (PDF, 3.4M).

The investigation acquired data to assess both health and dust nuisance impacts in the community, together with a determination of the contribution of coal particles to overall dust levels.

The monitoring results showed that ambient particle concentrations complied with ambient air quality objectives at all rail corridor monitoring sites during both the pre- and post-veneering monitoring periods. The major influence on the levels of particles was not rail transport emissions, but other urban particle emission sources.

Insoluble dust deposition rates did not exceed the trigger levels for dust nuisance during both pre- and post-veneering monitoring.

Coal particles typically accounted for about 10% of the total surface coverage in the deposited dust samples, with the amount present in individual samples ranging from trace levels up to 20% of the total surface coverage.

A general trend was observed toward decreasing dust deposition rates and lower levels of coal dust in the deposited dust samples at most monitoring sites following the implementation of rail wagon veneering at the New Hope Group’s New Acland Mine.

Queensland Health has concluded that, for people living along the rail corridor, the overall dust concentrations from all particle sources measured during the investigation are unlikely to result in any additional adverse health effects.

The post-veneering monitoring report was peer reviewed by Dr Neville Bofinger, retired member of the School of Natural Resource Sciences at the Queensland University of Technology and one of Australia’s leading air quality scientists. The peer review (PDF, 188K) concluded that:

‘The study used appropriate methodology, experimental design and data analysis to reach its conclusions. The report is comprehensive and logical and is appropriately referenced. Conclusions which are drawn in the report are supported by the data.’

Several insightful comments were made by the peer reviewer, which DSITIA saw as beneficial to incorporate in the final report. A table showing the changes made to the report following peer review is provided in DSITIA’s responses to the recommendations of the Independent Peer Review (PDF, 236K).

Current continuous monitoring program

The continuous monitoring program is now being conducted at two sites in southern Queensland, namely at Cannon Hill Railway Station on the Brisbane Metropolitan rail line and at Jondaryan 170km west of Brisbane on the Darling Downs.

The Jondaryan site is located on the eastern side of Jondaryan township, and was installed in response to community concerns about the impacts of dust emissions from the Jondaryan Rail Loading Facility. The Jondaryan Rail Loading Facility is a bulk handling facility for transporting coal by train from the Darling Downs to the Port of Brisbane.

The purpose of this monitoring is to validate the effectiveness of coal dust mitigation measures being taken by the coal producers and transporters as outlined in the South West System Coal Dust Management Plan (PDF), and to confirm that dust levels, particularly coal dust levels, continue to meet environmental standards.

The monitoring at both sites involves:

  • continuous measurement of particles less than 10 micrometres in size (PM10)and particles less than 2.5 micrometres in size (PM2.5) for direct comparison against guidelines for protection of human health
  • continuous measurement of total suspended particles (TSP) for direct comparison against recommended guidelines for avoidance of dust nuisance impacts
  • 30-day samples of deposited dust to determine the amount and composition of dust settling out adjacent to the rail corridor
  • continuous measurement of wind conditions to assist with identification of sources of particles.

Deposited dust sampling is also being carried out at Fairfield and Toowoomba.

The continuous PM10, PM2.5 and TSP monitoring data is available via the Queensland Government live air data webpage. The website data is updated hourly.

Both the continuous and monthly dust deposition data is reported in DSITIA’s South East Queensland monthly air quality bulletins. The bulletins are available from the website two months after the end of the reporting month.

A report on the findings of the continuous monitoring will be available in mid-2015.

Port of Gladstone

The Gladstone Ports Corporation website provides access to real-time air quality monitoring data for sites in close proximity to their coal terminals.

Port of Brisbane

Information on air quality monitoring and a summary of particulate matter results covering the Port of Brisbane is also available.

Queensland Bulk Handling

Queensland Bulk Handling (QBH) is a coal export terminal located within the Port Of Brisbane. QBH stockpiles large quantities of coal within the facility and is required to meet the conditions specified by EHP’s environmental approval. QBH’s website provides further information on their dust management processes and monitoring program.


Coal rail contacts

Central Queensland coal rail network: Aurizon Limited
Telephone: 13 23 32

West Moreton coal rail network (SEQ): Queensland Rail:
Telephone: 13 16 17

Queensland Resources Council
West Moreton Coal Dust Management Plan development and implementation; implementation of ongoing coal dust monitoring program.
Telephone: (07) 3295 9560

Coal terminal and port contacts

Abbot Point

Adani Terminal 1
Telephone: (07) 3223 4800

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation
Telephone: 1300 129 255

Hay Point

Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal
Telephone: (07) 4943 8444

Hay Point Services Coal Terminal
Telephone: 1800 078 797

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation
Telephone: 1300 129 255

Port of Gladstone

Gladstone Ports Corporation (Operator RG Tanna & Barney Point Coal Terminals
Email: via Gladstone Ports Corporation website
Telephone: 1800 063 408

Port of Brisbane

Queensland Bulk Handling Pty Ltd (Terminal Operator)
Telephone: (07) 3107 4900

Port of Brisbane Pty Ltd (Port Manager)
Telephone: (07) 3258 4888

Air quality regulator

Department of Environment and Heritage Protection
Telephone: Permit and Licence Management on 1300 130 372

Last updated
17 October 2016