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Australian rail workers plan strikes that could hit key coal haulage tracks

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Coal railway workers at Australian hauler Aurizon Holdings Ltd are planning strikes after a breakdown in pay negotiations, their trade union said, a move that could delay shipments from the world’s largest coking coal export region.

Miners including BHP Billiton, Glencore, Anglo American and Peabody Energy use Aurizon’s four major railways in the state of Queensland to bring coal to port.

Protracted negotiations over pay rises and rostering had broken down, the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, which represents train crews and maintenance workers at Aurizon, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Members … will start walking off the job at midday tomorrow in 11 days of action,” the union said. Four days of stoppages and seven days of overtime bans are planned.

Aurizon said in a statement that if the strikes go ahead, its Blackwater and Moura networks would shut for 24 hours from noon on Friday.

Its Goonyella and Newlands lines would close for 24 hours from noon on Saturday and its corridor into Brisbane would shut from noon on Monday for 24 hours.

The lines connect the coal-rich Bowen Basin with ports on Australia’s east coast.

“Aurizon has been bargaining in good faith (and) believes solid and constructive progress was being made,” Aurizon said in a statement.

“Aurizon is urging the unions to withdraw their proposed industrial action. It is extremely disappointing that unions have elected to take this unnecessary and premature step.”

Aurizon shares had risen 0.8 percent by mid-morning, while the broader market rose 0.3 percent.

BHP, Glencore, Anglo American and Peabody had no immediate comment.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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