The contract covers the movement of up to 16 million tonnes per year of coal from mines in the Gunnedah Basin to the Port of Newcastle from four loading sites, including the new Maules Creek project, which is in the final stages of its approval process.

Aurizon will make a capital investment of up to $A 280m ($US 294m) in the state, in addition to its already-planned $A 110m train maintenance facility at Hexham in the Hunter Valley which will support the new fleet.

Whitehaven Coal recently announced completion of a $A 1.2bn bank facility, which will finance the Maules Creek project.

Maules Creek is one of the largest coal deposits in Australia with 362 million tonnes of recoverable reserves. Subject to the timely delivery of all necessary approvals, it is expected that coal production will commence in 2014, with forecast volumes exceeding 10 million tonnes per year at full production.