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Breaking new ground at Tower Colliery

Cat 777F dumptruck

Last year mining specialists Hargreaves invested in a totally new fleet of Caterpillar equipment in a £60 million, seven-year deal with Finning Equipment Solutions. The deal marked the first time in Europe, Africa and the Middle East that a mining project had chosen a total solution from the newly extended Caterpillar mining range.

Representing the largest Caterpillar equipment deal of its type, the Hargreaves contract was the first to benefit from the newly extended range, following the acquisition, from Caterpillar, of the former Bucyrus distribution business by Finning International in January 2012.

Included in the groundbreaking deal with Hargreaves were four new 300-tonne Cat 6030 hydraulic excavators and nineteen 777F off-highway dumptrucks for use by the company’s new surface mining division at the Tower Colliery opencast mine site, in Hirwaun, South Wales.

‘The Tower Colliery opencast project represents a completely new model for the industry,’ explained Hargreaves’ group commercial director, Kevin Dougan. ‘Hargreaves Services and joint-venture partners Tower Colliery have worked in partnership with Finning Equipment Solutions to secure investment and more than 200 new jobs for the area.’

Over the next seven years Hargreaves Services will manage the extraction of some 6 million tonnes of coal from the 650-acre site. The site will be worked to a depth of 150m, with weekly overburden extraction volumes and coal production output amounting to around 225,000m3 and 20,000 tonnes respectively.

As part of the deal with Finning, Hargreaves have agreed a maintenance and service agreement with defined performance levels, giving them confidence on productivity and equipment availability for the duration of the project.

Coal has been commercially mined at Tower Colliery, near the village of Hirwaun, in South Wales’ Cynon valley, since 1864, initially as a drift mine and later (in the 1940s) as a deep mine. In the aftermath of the 1984/85 miners’ strike, the then Conservative government instructed British Coal to undertake an extensive closure programme involving many of the UK’s deep mines, on economic grounds. Tower Colliery was officially closed in April 1994.

At this point Tower Colliery miners decided that they would buy the site and continue to work the mine themselves. Two hundred and thirty nine miners each pledged their £8,000 redundancy payouts to the project. They then developed a business plan and attracted financial support from banks, and on 2 January 1995 the workers went back into Tower Colliery and began work the following day.

For 13 years following the reopening Tower Colliery successfully produced high-quality coal, but in January 2008, with the last economically viable deep coal deposits worked out, the pit was closed for the second time.

Four years later, however, Tower Colliery was granted permission to extract approximately 5.9 million tonnes of shallow coal deposits, leading to the deal with Hargreaves Services and, in turn, Finning Caterpillar for a seven-year programme of surface extraction and site regeneration.

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