HIGH IN THE SADDLE: Driving the mine trucks can be intimidating at first, due to their size.
Photo by Steven Macleod
HINTON, Alta. – From a distance, the eyes can register the dump trucks utilized at a mine site are larger than your average dump truck.
Walking closer to the dump trucks, it becomes obvious just how large the mining trucks are built when its height swallows the sun and casts a giant shadow, while still a fair distance away.
“It looks big when you’re sitting down here; but when you’re on the truck everything is big, the shovels, the loader and even the roads are wider,” said Kenneth Preston, a loss prevention officer with Elk Valley Coal Cardinal River Operation in Hinton, Alta. “Once you get the hang of it, it’s like driving a pickup truck.”
Preston has worked at the mine site – about 40 km south of Hinton – for two years and spent a year behind the wheel of one of the giant dump trucks before moving into a different area of the mine operation.
At the Elk Valley Coal mine site, the operation utilizes two different types of trucks to move the coal from the pit to the plant: a rock dump and a belly dump.
There are three different brands of rock dumps used at the mine ranging in capacity from 180 tonnes to 260 tonnes. The rock dumps are used primarily in the pit to move coal and rock debris around the site. The trucks use an electric motor on the rear wheels with a diesel engine, which powers the electric motor.
“When it’s loaded I can only get up to about 32 km/h and when it’s empty about 45 km/h or so,” explained Kell Larson, from the driver’s seat of the dump truck.
Larson is a third generation employee at the mine and has been driving truck around the site for two years.
“It’s pretty simple; there’s forward, reverse and that’s it,” he explained. “You can really notice the difference when it’s empty, it’s a lot smoother when it’s full.”
Equipped with a Cummins 2,500 hp engine, the rock dump truck sits a little more than 44 feet in length and 24 feet wide.
The belly dump is a Kress brand truck, which holds 220 tonnes of raw coal and is used to transport the coal from the pit to the plant, with a top speed of 67 km/h whether loaded or unloaded and runs on a diesel engine, without the electric motor.
The Kress trucks are the Cadillac’s of the mine site and the smooth, quiet ride is operated by a six-speed clutchless manual transmission. The belly dumps are just two years old and were purchased when the new mine pit was developed, which is 26 km from the plant. Prior to the Kress trucks, the farthest drive from pit to plant was about four kilometres.
The mine operates five Kress trucks and 11 rock dump trucks. There are approximately 315 active employees at the mine, with about 60 active truck drivers included in the list.
The truck drivers at the mine site are not required to hold a Class 1 licence, but undergo 10 days of classroom and in-cab training on-site before being allowed in the cab alone.
“It’s totally different from a highway truck, but the drivers go through a training program. You don’t need a Class 1 to drive these trucks, we even have one guy who doesn’t even have a drivers licence,” explained Preston. “It’s a private site and the trucks never go on-road. It’s just a piece of equipment; the things you have to get used to are the size how to back up to other pieces of equipment.”