Hedy’s Highlights of 2016


As 2016 takes its closing breaths, we learn of the passing of yet another icon, Carrie Fisher.  My Facebook feed is full of pleas to keep David Attenborough safe lest we lose yet another national treasure.  We’ve seen terror attacks, ongoing conflict in Syria, the rise of the political far right, Britain vote to leave the EU and, personally most concerning, the election of Donald Trump as next ruler of the free world.  All is not doom and gloom however and as the world ticks over there has been plenty of good news from the world of women in STEM.  I’ve put together my highlights of the year below, covering both personal and industry arenas.

January – For the first time, NASA’s class of astronauts are 50% female

February – Female engineering entrepreneurs featured by CNN 

March – UNSW Graduate Megan Kline wins 2016 WA CME Outstanding Young Woman in Resources award and is profiled by UNSW

April – Whilst on Yvette’s Grand Tour, we both visited the Falkirk Wheel, a connection point between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal


Having a wheely good time on Yvette’s Grand Tour!

May – Yvette is awarded the 2016 Young Railway Engineer of the Year from the Railway Technical Society of Australasia


Yvette and Antonia with their awards

June – National Women in Engineering Day is celebrated in the UK on 23rd June, featuring the release of a list of the Top 50 Influential Women in Engineering

July – My favourite mathematician Hannah Fry and Dallas Campbell explore the modern aviation industry in a series produced by the BBC ‘City in the Sky


Hannah Fry not posing next to a plane, but rather a Jacquard loom from her show on Ada Lovelace

August – Whilst on my summer holiday we visited Bletchley Park and found out about the amazing women who operated the Bombe machines to find the daily Enigma settings

September – The Paralympics highlight a number of engineering innovations  A special issue of Sports Engineering highlights technology for Disability Sport


October – BHP Billiton sets new goal for 50% of workforce to be women by 2025

November – Book launch for Rules of the Game, a book that explores the world of engineering, resources and construction, from The Blue Collared Woman


December – Largest all-female expedition to Antartica heads off

What are your highlights of 2016, and what do you have planned for 2017?


Graduate Development Day



Last week, I was invited to speak to our graduates at one of their development days about my career journey and talk a little about personal branding.  I don’t have all the answers, by any stretch, but I thought that I’d share with you what I shared with them.

I’m Yvette and I’m a Design Manager with Engineering & Projects.

I’m from Townsville and have a Computer Systems Engineering degree from James Cook.

I had planned to be a software engineer but was convinced to try signalling, under the misapprehension that it had something to do with digital signals processing, which is untrue.  For a year, I worked in QR’s signalling design team, doing circuit drawings, and testing and commissioning on site.  I also had a really great graduate development coordinator.  She has certainly shaped the professional I am today and we’re still friends.  The fact that she owns a property in wine country doesn’t hurt…

At the end of my first year, I moved to Mount Isa to be with my then partner who was working at the copper mine.

I worked in fixed plant maintenance at the lead mine for two years, but then returned to QR National because I missed the intellectual challenge of signalling.  Mount Isa itself really wasn’t that bad, there were a surprising number of beautiful shoe shops but I really found it hard to love my role.

Since my return I’ve been based with the signalling team for most of the past 6 years, in various forms.

For two years, I was a data designer while I completed my postgrad in signalling and telecommunications, then got my CPEng and RPEQ.

Who’s an engineer here?

Who’d like to hear about my CPEng journey or have you all been told enough about that..?

[They had been told HEAPS about it and politely declined…]

When my boss got snapped up by the transition to operations program, I expressed interest in her role, and acted as the manager of the signalling design team for about 9 months.  I also had the chance to participate in the Mentoring Circles, which is where I met Renee [one of the graduate coordinators].

Then, I was seconded to an operational project and have been there since the middle of 2014, up until a few months ago.

As I mentioned, I’m currently acting in a Design Manager role with Engineering & Projects, while the Design Manager I’m replacing is on shared care leave.  But this will end in a few weeks.

Each time I have changed jobs and roles, I’ve been terrified.  Except for when I returned to signalling from the lead mine.  The relief of actually leaving the heat of Mount Isa overshadowed any other feelings I could have had.

This, I think, is a mixture of self doubt and risk aversion.  Why take a gamble if you’ve got something good going on right now?  What if you are actually worse at the new job?  What if you don’t like it as much?

Up until last week, I’d been really focussed on getting my mythical “dream job”.  If I couldn’t get my dream job, then I was staying put.  Paul Huth [Principal Engineer who coordinates graduate engineering rotations] very kindly led me to the conclusion that this was a little bit crazy.

Within reason, most rotation or secondment opportunities will have a little bit of your dream job hiding in there that can be used as preparation for the role you really want.  Communication, people management, scheduling, exposure to particular business processes or assets… it’s all useful in the future.

And if you really do end up doing something that you absolutely hate, then you have learned more about what you need from a role to generate intrinsic satisfaction.  This also goes for working with supervisors that you don’t really gel with.  Even if you hate them, you will have learnt what types of leadership characteristics you don’t want to emulate.

I’m really bad marketing myself the way that’s recommended.  For example, I need to go back to my desk and update my talent profile [which I did, see below].  I don’t have an elevator pitch because I’ve worked on a confidential project for a really long time and can’t talk about my work.

“What have you been up to, Yvette?”

“Um yeah, this and that… How are your projects/kids/goldfish?”

One time I accidentally stole a towel from the end of trip facility because I freaked out when Mike Carter [EVP] talked to me.  I do not recommend this.

However, I do recommend, making the most of the opportunities for developing your elevator pitch in the next session.  (I’m certainly looking forward to getting some well needed tips.)

I really enjoy connection and so I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to network by genuinely just being interested in people.  I’m also reasonably lucky that I’m not too fussed by public speaking so one of the ways I’ve been able to get exposure is by speaking at seminars, technical meetings and conferences.

I’m also involved in the Institute of Railway Signal Engineers and the Railway Technical Society of Australia.  Not only is this positive for the usual reasons – like contacts, leadership experience, technical development, but it also shows people that you are serious about your career; that you are willing to help yourself, in your own time.  And people are far more willing to help those who help themselves, than those who grumble in the corner about the lack of progression but turn up their noses at anything that slightly oversteps the boundaries of the role they are paid to do.

I’m from a small town and my mother, like most of the adults I knew, was always worried about what other people thought.

In your personal life, I’m a massive advocate for embracing the weirdness that is your authentic self.  This is definitely the way to be happy, seriously.

But at work, it turns out my mother is actually right.  Although, I hate to admit it.

You do need to be a touch more savvy when you’re around people who can influence your future.  This is where you’re more the consultancy than the employee.  You’re trying to drum up more business for yourself, rather than just carrying out your tasks and making sure your paypacket is being filled.

Your work personality should be managed with as much care as your instagram account.  In the same way you wouldn’t post unflattering photos of yourself with a massive number of chins, you have to think about what your actions at work say about the type of professional you are.

Your instagram account is still you, and it still allows you to portray who you are.  But it doesn’t expose the shortcomings, at least not unintentionally.

Who do you want to be seen as?

What kind of actions will your stakeholders “loveheart”?

What kind of actions will lead to them wanting to follow you?

There is a lot of leadership stuff, for women especially, that talks about being assertive and leaning in and asking for what you want.

Striking a balance between telling people what you want so that they can help you get there and not tarring your brand by seeming entitled is an incredibly thin line to tread.

And I don’t have an exact solution for that.

But I do know that being mindful of it can only lead to better outcomes.

My cousin, who is a zumba teacher, posted an inspirational quote which said “what other people think of you is none of your business”.

Until we live in a very different kind of world, this is incorrect.

It is your business.

It is your repeat business.

It is your future business.

So if you don’t want to go out of business, it is worth having a think about.


(The photo above is what happened when I made Control Systems grad, Ragnee, take a selfie with me at her Graduate Challenge Presentation, like a proud but embarrassing older relative.)

I also followed this up with an email to the graduate coordinator with some useful networking links, which may also interest you.

Here are the links I promised which may interest some of the graduates:


IRSE Younger Members’ Society:


Also, ask me for a membership form if you’re keen!


Young Transport Professionals Queensland Facebook Group:



Young Engineers Australia:




Queensland Women in Engineering:



Queensland Women in Finance:



I’m also investigating the UK-based Young Rail Professionals and, amongst other things, organise exchange programs for graduate rotations.  Stay tuned for more info soon!  Fingers crossed!


My favourite Myers Briggs test, mostly because the graphics are really cute.  No idea how our HR professionals feel about its actual content… [I know that some HR professionals, don’t recommend this test for recruitment purposes, but it’s free and as long as you’re not using it to discriminate against people, I feel it isn’t too bad]




We had a discussion about personality tests in the session after mine, which led me to including the 16 Personalities link.  I added my two cents in, mentioning how having a broad indication of my strengths and weaknesses has helped me in figuring out what will make me happy, career wise.  I had often struggled with being motivated enough to care about nitty gritty technical details, and was quite concerned that I found principles testing so monotonous and lonely.  And I’d never understood why I couldn’t ever remember electrical part numbers and yet could still recall the birth dates of my childhood friends.   However, the actual realization that I am extroverted and gain energy from interacting with other people helps explain why I love chatting, group brainstorming and getting stuff done on the spot.


I’m an ENFJ btw.  Here’s a picture of me either saving a village or stealing a baby.


Knowing about yourself also helps you in your interactions with the others around you.  Understanding the differences allows you to better interpret (and predict) other people’s actions and to treat them the way they want to be treated (which may be subtly different to the way YOU would want to be treated in the same situation).


In case you’ve not been paying attention recently, I’ve very much about seeking happiness by being your authentic self.  An extension of this can be seen in my update of my career aspirations on our internal talent profile, finally giving in to the fact that detailed design just doesn’t pick my relay:

I would like to combine my technical engineering skills and my interpersonal and communications experience to act as the interface between our customers and the engineering teams who deliver their solutions.  My ideal role would involve engaging stakeholders to generate requirements for engineering project proposals, and documenting solutions to secure works that utilise our rail engineering expertise.

As always, we would love to know what you think!  What advice would/do you give your graduates?

Do you know your personality type?  Or is MB all BS?

Celebrating Gin and Visitors


Here’s something I posted last week for a good friend of mine who was celebrating World Gin Day in proper style, with a Gin Week on her blog!

As an oompa loompa of science I find the world of distilling and brewing quite fascinating.  Basically Chemistry class for adults!  So to celebrate Gin Week and a couple of visitors from home I headed to Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years Pickering’s, situated in Summerhall in Edinburgh’s south.  I had unfortunately missed out on Juniper Fest over the weekend and had already visited the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, so was keen to learn what made Pickering’s special.


This way to gin!

Pickerings gin is based on an original Bombay recipe dating back to 1947 and kept as a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013 when Matt and Marcus began distilling at Summerhall.  The tour begins at the Royal Dick Bar in Summerhall, also home to one of Edinburgh’s breweries Barney’s Beer, with a G&T to sip throughout.


Great way to start a tour, G&T with a slice of pink grapefruit

From the bar you are taken past the Mens room, then the ladies, through winding corridors and over uneven ground to what used to be dog and cat kennels. They have since been repurposed with some of the kennels used to store raw ingredients, gin and boxes.  But how do they make their gin?

A neutral grain spirit with 96%abv is piped into one of two copper stills on site, one called Emily, the other Getrude after Matt and Marcus’s great-grandmothers.  In the still the 9 botanicals are added and the spirit left to steep.

The 9 botanicals that go in to making this tasty drop are juniper, coriander, cardamon, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and clove.  The two stills have an ingenious custom-designed bain marie heating system that provides a gentle simmer able to coax out their subtle, soft, highly drinkable flavours.


With their 9 Botanicals

After steeping this bain marie system is used to heat the spirit to vapour.  As the heating begins this vapour is trapped in the ‘onion’ of the still, condenses and travels back down to the heart of either Emily or Gertrude.  This process of vapourising, condensing and travelling back to the spirit can occur up to 16 times before the spirit is warm enough for the vapour to bypass the onion and travel through the swan neck to the neighbouring condenser.

The condenser uses water that is stored in a local underground well to cool the vapour back to a liquid.  Similar to whisky distilling, the potable alcohol the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2OC, with the first vapours to boil off being more volatile and known as the ‘heads’. The hedas include chemicals such as acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), acetone ((CH3)2CO) and esters (pretty sure I learnt about those in chemistry back in the day!). Once the desired boiling point is reached the ethanol liquid is called the heart and piped through copper piping to one of three vats.  The heart will be ethanol. The tails are left, containing water, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols, all undesirable. The tails will consist of 1-propanol (CH3CH2CH2OH), butyl alcohol (C4H10O), amyl (Isobutyl carbinol) and acetic acid (CH3COOH) to name a few.

The copper in the still and piping is very important as it helps produce an even, smooth flavour and impurities are left on the inside of the copper piping thereby keeping the spirit pure without excessive filtration.

Once stored in the vats the distillers will monitor the temperature and density of the spirit, regularly taking temperature and density readings and adding water until the desired alcohol content is arrived at.  Pickering’s Gin has 42%abv, slightly more than the required 37.5%abv to qualify as a London Dry Gin.  It is a particularly high tech process at Pickering’s, adding the water by hand in smaller and smaller quantities, stirring using a oar bought from an outdoor shop and taking individual measurements with thermometer and hydrometer then double checking them in a large book full of tables.

This is a one-shot method, only mixing their end distillate with water to cut it to bottling strength, compared with larger distilleries who use more base spirit to stretch their distillate before cutting with water.

When the desired alcohol content is achieved then it is piped in copper pipes to the room next door where it is bottled by hand.  It is also stoppered and waxed by hand.


If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Pickering’s you’ll know the bottle isn’t square which makes attaching labels by hand consistently rather difficult.  The distillery is housed in part of Summerhall, an old Veterinary Hospital that is now home to many community groups including Edinburgh Hacklab.  This hacklab is a space for people to mess around with technology for fun so Pickering’s asked them to come up with something they could use to attach the labels, as they were worryingly close to their launch date and had a few hundred bottles to label.

The resulting machine is quite something, and is still going well considering it was designed to be used on a few hundred bottles and has now been used on over 60,000.


What a beautiful machine

Once labels are attached, and the stoppers are waxed the bottles are boxed up and stored in the old dog kennels.  Throughout this whole process it s evident that everything is done by hand by a very small team, and it is definitely a labour of love.


Dog kennels being used as an excise store for gin

The original 1947 recipe was altered as they were creating a gin that goes perfectly with tonic, and it seems they have hit the nail on the head.  They also produce a Navy Strength gin, as official partners of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and have also created a gin using the original 1947 recipe which is a spicier, sweeter and more intense spirit.

Their most recent release has its beginnings in a trip around Scotland to the iconic whisky regions in search of the best casks they could find.  They then age their Original gin in one of five ex-Scotch malt whisky casks, and the result is truly something!

Well that’s all from me today. I hope you feel a little better informed about the process of creating one of my favourite gins. I definitely believe a greater understanding of something leads to a much deeper appreciation of its beauty. So next time you sip that G&T ask yourself what botanicals are in it, how they affect the gin, whether it is a one or two shot distillate, and never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin.

If you want some wonderful ways to cook with gin, don’t forget to head to Kitty’s Storecupboard and have a look at all her wonderful Gin Week posts.

Sunshine on Lapland, and Iron Ore


It would seem like Spring has finally made it to Lapland.  The large pile of snow in the hotels courtyard has almost melted, and the nearby hills are starting to look a little naked.  It’s amazing the transformation that has occurred over only two weeks.  The landscape is full of hope – green leaves rapidly unfurling from trees that looked two weeks ago like they would never recover from the long winter, hares can be frequently spotted throughout town, and the moose and reindeer have come down toward the river and are more often seen on the road outside my hotel than cars.  There’s also the 24 hours of daylight, coupled with 5 weeks on the road, that have resulted in me starting to resemble Al Pacino from 2002’s Insomnia.  As an aside, if you haven’t seen insomnia, it’s worth a watch just for Robin Williams.

So, why am I in rural northern Sweden, and where am I exactly anyway?  I am spending three weeks in a place called Gällivare, about 3 hours north-east of Luleä, which I’m sure you’ve never heard of either, unless you read Yvette’s blog last week! When you include nearby Malmberget and Koskullskulle the area has just over 15,000 inhabitants and is the second northernmost urban area in Sweden.  The only urban area further north is Kiruna, an area Yvette was lucky enough to visit recently as well.


Gallivare, in the heart of Swedish Lapland

It is 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, and from May till August it never really gets dark.  It’s not all doom and gloom though, today was a balmy 23 degrees, a rare treat before the area becomes ‘mosquito hell’ over the summer months as it is known by the locals.

I am here working for the nearby LKAB Malmberget iron ore mine.  The town is known as the mining capital of Europe, with other nearby mines including LKAB’s Svapavaara and Kiruna Mine’s and Boliden’s Aitik.  LKAB markets itself as ‘a high-tech international minerals group, world leading producer of processed iron ore products for steelmaking, and a growing supplier of mineral products for other industrial sectors’.  They are a major employer in the area and in 2015 produced 24.5MT of iron ore, the majority of which was pellets for steel making.  To put that in perspective, Australian iron ore exports for 2015 were in the region of 750Mt, however Sweden makes up about 90% of the European Union’s steel production so LKAB are a significant European producer.  They produce three main product types: pellets, fines and special products.  Pellets and fines go to steel mills and special products to foundries and the oil industry.  The Geologist who was our guide proudly proclaimed that the pellets produced by Malmberget are the best quality pellets in the world, and they certainly receive a premium for their product.

What also makes LKAB unique is that they are state owned.  Nationalisation of mines became the norm after the world wars, when developed countries were concerned with ensuring self-sufficiency of commodity supply, and developing, often recently independent, nations saw this as the route to economic independence from their colonial oppressors.  However management was often poor, production was never optimal, and nepotism was rife so nationalisation of mines decreased, with privatisation the new norm.  There are still a number of state owned enterprises including Chile’s Codelco, a laeading producer of copper, Morrocco’s OCP, the main producer of phosphate in the world, and Botswana’s diamond producer Debwana currently operating successfully.

LKAB has two underground mines, Kiruna and Malmberget, and one open and two planned open pits in nearby Svappavaara.  The ore is shipped to one of two harbours, Kiruna and Svappavaara products to Narvik harbour and Malmberget products to Luleå.


An overview of LKAB’s operations in Sweden

All sorting, milling and pelletising is completed on site at the mines, and it is the final product that is then railed to ports to be shipped to their mainly European customers.  The diagram below will give you a better idea of their production structure and how vertically integrated it is.  It is certainly an impressive industrial area when you are used to an underground mine and associated concentrator.


The vertically integrated production structure

Before we get to the really interesting stuff, a quick run-down on the geology of the Malmberget deposit.  Malmberget is an Apatite iron ore of Kiruna-Type.  Yep, you read correctly – Kiruna morphology is distinct enough to have its own deposit type named after it.  The area strikes 5 kilometres in a West-East direction, and 2.5 kilometres in the North-South direction and comprises of 30 current and historical magnetite and hematite mines.  The ore itself consists of medium to coarse grained magnetitie and hematite and it is high in apatite.  The host rocks are strongly metamorphosed and deformed vulcanites of felsic to mafic composition.  Vulcanite areas are intruded and surrounded by a later granite-pegmatite succession, which is the probable cause for the high metamorphosis and deformation grade.  So put simply, it was originally a deposit very similar to Kiruna, that then underwent folding and subsequent metamorphism which resulted in much smaller vein-like deposits then is seen in the Kiruna deposit.


On aerial view of the Industrial Area with the underlying deposits

As a result, Malmberget deposit is mined with a combination of transverse and longitudinal Sub-Level Caving.  The Sub-Level caving method is a large scale mass mining method, that is sequenced from the top of the deposit downward, where material is blasted, extracted but not filled so the overlying rock caves to fill in the void created by loading the rock out.


Mining in the area began in the 1600s but not on an industrial scale until the railroad to Lulea harbor was built in 1888.  There are currently 13 orebodies in production, producing on average about 18Mt per annum.  The majority of ore produced is magnetite and mining is divided between the Western and Eastern fields, with the big magnetite orebodies in the Eastern field and the small magnetite and hematite orebodies in the Western field.

As an engineer who has worked in a 5Mtpa underground mine (and I thought that was sizeable), the sheer volume of rock that is moved astounds me every time I visit.  All their production and development statistics are equally staggering however, as in 2014 they completed almost 21km of development, installed 65,000 rock bolts and drilled 794,000 production metres.

Apart from the challenges that come with mining at this scale, the mine is actually underneath the town of Malmberget and the Community Centre had a fascinating model that showed the relationship of the orebodies to the town.

Throwback Thursday – Workin’ on the Järnväg

Today’s post is not throwing back too far, only to mid April, when I had the pleasure of getting my rail geek on in Northern Sweden, as part of my 7-week Grand Tour of the UK and Nordic countries.

Ever since I had seen a video on the underground automatic trains at LKAB’s Kiruna mine, I have wanted to visit to see them for myself.

This week, my team of rail fairy godfathers – the exceptionally well-connected Jonesy and the incredibly obliging guys at the Swedish trade commission – made my Swedish rail dreams come true!

My first excursion was a train cab ride on an iron ore train from Kiruna, in Northern Sweden, to the Norwegian port in Narvik.  Apparently, this opportunity is only offered to about 10 people a year, and they are usually important foreign dignitaries.  (I told you all I was a princess!)

I travelled with a Norwegian driver who wasn’t accustomed to talking about train handling and supervision equipment in English, but he did an excellent job of explaining with gestures and pointing out the best parts in the journey for photo opportunities.

One of most exciting things pointed out to me was a majestic, white reindeer galloping along the corridor.  I got a great photo of him… just before we ran him over.

I was very pleased to discover that the cabins are fully heated.  This line is run as driver only with supervision by a system called ATC, which has a similar level of supervision to Westec ATP in that a violation in speed initiates an brake intervention.   (This line will be the next line which Trafikverket will fit with ETCS, but it’s not underway quite yet.)  Vigilance is achieved via a half-on-half-off dead man’s pedal.

The Swedish aspects are reminiscent of those in NSW with a something over something setup indicating the current signal and the next one.  The mostly still yellow balises on the track provide location and signal information to the onboard equipment.  Trackside equipment is stored in half width locs painted red with the Falun mine style iron ore paint (to match the rest of the buildings in Sweden).  There are HBDs on the track the same as what one would find in Queensland but there were also signals interlocked with avalanche detectors on the Norwegian section of the track.  The landscape was certainly different to my last journey on a commodity train in the Hunter Valley.  I especially enjoyed the smell of woodfires which greeted us at many of the passenger stations and was fascinated by the “snow galleries”, above ground tunnels with glass windows designed to allow prevent snow fall and avalanches from affecting operations.


The train we were travelling in was a standard configuration, 746m long and 8454 tonnes.  The route has a long of curves and hills with the gradients and level above sea level signposted next to the track.  The driver explained how to feel when the train was stretching as we went up hill (the stretch is about 6m) and very soon I could tell from the train vibrations whether it was a positive or negative gradient.  Running brake testing is completed before the downhill slope is reached.  The driver prefaced this with, “If it don’t work, we jump.”  Luckily, we didn’t have to jump.

It wasn’t a particularly cold or snowy day, but there was a little snow fall.  In order to ensure that snow on the brakes doesn’t turn to ice, the brakes have to be used a little every 10 minutes.  The driver showed me a photo of what the train looked like on a bad day.


The trip took just over 2 hours, travelling 60km/h in Sweden and 50km/h past the Norwegian border.  At the border there are national flags painted in the rail tunnel, to signify the crossing, but if you blink, you’ll miss them.

The ore is unloaded quite quickly via six openings into a massive underground silo.  This was where I left the LKAB train to do a little sight seeing in Narvik.

Unfortunately, Narvik wasn’t as exciting a place as I thought it was going to be, although I did love the view of the houses overlooking the fjord (enough to paint it).  I went to two different shopping centres, took a few photos with statues and visited the very sombre war memorial museum.

I caught a passenger train back to Kiruna in the afternoon.

When I arrived, I had lost the internet connection on my phone so I trudged around in the snow for about 40 minutes until I saw buildings I recognised and bought myself a Risifruiti (my favourite Swedish kid’s snack) to celebrate my navigation success.

The next morning, I arrived back at LKAB for my underground tour, where I was assigned a personal tour guide for the day!

After getting kitted up, we drove down to the visitor centre at 540m, which was the original main level.  This was the most beautiful underground space I’d ever seen.  There were garden beds of iron ore pellets and blue lit rock walls.

I was ushered into an auditorium for a private viewing of a very glossy film about the mine.

Here’s what I learnt about the mine:

  • There are approximately 2000 employees with about 500 on shift at any time
  • RFID tags automatically keep track of employees’ movements throughout the mine
  • LKAB produces 90% of Europe’s iron ore
  • The mining method used is sub level caving, which leaves no voids with a very stable foot wall
  • The mine is as deep as six Eiffel Towers
  • Approximately 100,000 tonnes are mined each day
  • The iron ore is shipped in pellets, including “green” magnetite pellets which oxidise to haematite during combustion, decreasing the energy required for processing
  • The ore body extends under the town and the town will be moved a second time, to the east, when the mine extends too far under the town
  • The two mountains on LKAB’s symbol represent Kiruna and Malmbeget (LKAB’s other mine)
  • LKAB have rock bolts with wifi transmitters so that they can sense rock stability information
  • This wasn’t from the film but until 1978 it was actually illegal for women to work in Swedish mines
We spent a little time on the visitor centre level, looking at displays, especially one showing the train I travelled on the previous day, featuring the 1000th wagon, which is painted bright yellow.
A large contingent of tourists arrived, so we drove down to the cafe level at about 1300m, which had the vibe of an IKEA cafeteria.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to see the underground, driverless trains dumping ore into a pass below.  The whole base of the wagon falls away as opposed to merely having doors at the base open.  The trains’ location is determined by balise and they are automatic, although can be manually overridden, especially in the case of a “stalemate”.  I was quite excited and was teased by my tour guide for my enthusiasm.
After seeing a few more mining machines in the underground workshop, we drove to the surface and admired the beautiful view.  Then, we visited the control centre where the trains (and everything else) are monitored.
The last stop of the day was to see the rollingstock workshop, which was housed in a old red brick round house.  This wasn’t just a maintenance facility but also where LKAB make their own (and others’) wagons.

In the evening, I caught the train south east from Kiruna to Lulea, which was the port city for the second LKAB mine.  After a brisk walk in the fresh evening air, I arrived at my hotel, just before the restaurant kitchen closed for the night.

In the morning, I was met by Professor P-O, the rail guru of Sweden.  He took me to visit Trafikverket, the rail and road infrastructure owner of Sweden, where I had the opportunity to ask the rail asset owner about their network, its upgrades and issues.

Then we visited the university, where the rail centre of excellence is located.  I met some researchers who are working on cloud-based asset management, including bearings that transmit their state wirelessly and onboard infrared cameras (which I tested out).

P-O isn’t just a rail expert, he also is a brilliant tour guide.  We had lunch at a mountain top restaurant, visited the port, saw Facebook’s European data house, went to visit the world heritage Gammelstad village of “church houses” with the church built of 80 different kinds of rock, and had princess cake at a cafe untouched by the passage of time.

This marked the end of my rail-geek adventures and I flew back to Stockholm that evening, for some Falun sausage pasta (al la Marcus), Swedish hockey ice hockey semi-finals and Toby snuggles.


If you’d like to read about more (less engineering) Grand Tour adventures, you can at my travel blog, Yvette on Tour.


Sarah’s Self Interview


This week it’s my time to answer Yvette’s questions, so you can all get to know the mining engineer in your life a little better.

Where do you work and what do you do there?

I am a Senior Mining Engineer for an Australian company that makes mine planning software, based in their Edinburgh office.  Just in case you’ve not been lucky enough to cross paths with a mining engineer, once the geologists use their magical powers to locate an orebody a mining engineer is then involved from the long term evaluation and mine design through to short term production of the orebody.  At Maptek I dabble in selling software, technical support and consulting projects.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

Though I sometimes miss site work, as our office covers the European, Northern & Western African and Russian regions I am gaining a much greater understanding of different mining methods and the global mining industry, projects that are upcoming and the various players in the industry.

What did you study at uni and where?

I graduated with a Bachelors of Mining Engineering from the University of New South Wales back in 2006. It seems like an awfully long time ago…


Myself and my fellow engineers competing in the University Mining Games. Yep, that’s a thing!

What is your biggest regret?

Not completing my Underground Mine Managers ticket.  At the time it was the best decision as my head and heart just weren’t in it.

Who has inspired you?

My Dad was a geologist in a past life, and family holidays often had a geological bent.  It also meant that Dad’s friends and colleagues were banker, geologists and engineers so I’ve spent time with some inspirational women who have had amazing success in their chosen fields.

What decisions have led you to where you are?

In high school, all I really wanted to do was play with rocks so I studied all the requisite subjects to begin a career in Geology.  Halfway through Year 12 however I thought that given the cyclical nature of mining, a mining engineer could better withstand the busts. Honestly though, I was mostly just excited about large trucks and being able to blow things up.

I was then lucky enough to be offered a position with Xstrata’s graduate program at their geologically interesting George Fisher Mine near Mt Isa.  It was definitely a case of choosing my graduate job for the deposit and mine rather than the company.

What was the greatest moment in your professional life?

I have been given some amazing opportunities throughout my career to date.  From a personal point of view surviving 12 months working underground and then 9 months supervising a crew of 12 to 16 underground workers.  It was really tough as a 24yo female in a very male dominated industry, but I made some long lasting relationships, gained some amazing experience, hit all my safety and production targets, and grew a lot as a person! No awards at the end, but the sense of achievement has been unequalled since.


What is your favourite thing about yourself?

I’m still fascinated, often overly excited, by the world in which we live.  So many things to see and learn about.


Five minutes in New York and I’d already found the Flatiron building

What advice would you give your 16 year old self?

No matter how uncool it is, keep doing the things you love. One day you’ll end up living in Scotland and it will all make sense!!

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The beautiful glacial U shaped valleys of Yosemite, and The Lakes District isn’t far behind.


The Lakes District

What is the hardest decision you have ever had to make?

To quit my job at EHM and travel.  Thankfully I had a bit of a financial security blanket, but it was still really stressful to take that leap.

Why do you need feminism?

All through these questions I’ve just been copying over the top of Antionia’s answers, and her answer to this question is spot on so I’m going to be cheeky and not change a thing!  To quote Antonia “I need feminism because having children shouldn’t end my career and not having children shouldn’t make me less of a woman. I wish Women in Leadership conferences didn’t require a parenting tips segment.”

What is at the top of your bucket list?

Living in Scotland was at the top for a long time, as was taking a gap year to travel, but now they’re both ticked off I need to put a bit more thought into it!  I’ve done the solo travel thing, so now I would most like to take my boyfriend to the States and Canada, hire a car and just drive!  It would allow us both time to get back in to photography, and the Scottish music and dance scene is bigger than you think so we’d always have something to do.


Showing Pete around Sydney

What would be the most effective items in your Eden Jar

The most rewarding items would be of a musical or dance bent, along the lines of “Tickets to a gig”, “A new CD” or “A fiddle lesson from one of the many amazing muso’s in Scotland”.  But even “A new box of tea” or “High tea with a good friend” would put a very large smile on my face and bring balance back to the force!

Where are you going from here?

I have recently started studying an MBA in International Resource Management, so ideally coupled with my practical experience I would like to evaluate projects for a medium sized mining company in a head office somewhere.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about me? Feel free to ask in the Comments section below.