Whitehaven Coal has started transporting coal from its Maules Creek in New South Wales (NSW) earlier than expected.
The first coal-laden train departed the mine site heading for the port at Newcastle following a test train.
As anticipated by the company, the project budget is likely to be below the original estimate of $767m.
Whitehaven Coal managing director and CEO Paul Flynn said: "Maules Creek is already having a substantial positive economic impact on local towns, the region more broadly and the state as a whole.
"During construction, the project has provided employment for up to 600 full-time equivalents and contractors. Once fully operational, the mine will employ around 450 full-time workers.
Maules Creek will produce about 2.5 million tonnes (Mt) of run-of-mine (RoM) coal in the period up to 30 June 2015 and about 6Mt of RoM coal in the first full year of operation. The site may be declared fully commercial from 1 July next year.
Construction components are said to remain in progress, including erection of the coal-handling preparation plant (CHPP), provision of permanent power, product coal stockyards and workshops.
Upon completion, which is thought to be before the end of May 2015, the CHPP is expected to be the last of the major infrastructure components to be completed.
The company’s operations team has provided key improvements over the previous feasibility study assumptions, which include an expected strip ratio during the first five years of the mine of 5.8:1.
Operating costs for FY2016 are estimated to be A$62 per tonne (excluding royalties), while costs for the first five years of mine life are expected to be in the range of A$63 to A$64 per tonne.
The company has placed orders for the equipment to expand production to 8.5Mt a year RoM coal.
Image: A train being loaded with coal. Photo: courtesy of Whitehaven Coal Limited.