The latest extension will add 20 years to the life of Kestrel Mine, the company’s only underground coal operation managed by Rio Tinto.

Kestrel Mine general manager operations John Coughlan said that the mine processes high quality coking coal for export through the longwall method, and expects to see its first shipment from the new area of the mine in coming weeks.

"Over the coming year and a half we’ll see a gradual transition of production as our existing operation, known as Kestrel North, winds down and the new Kestrel South operation ramps up."

"Kestrel South is expected reach full capacity by the end of 2014 and produce an average of 5.7 million tonnes per annum over the next 20 years," Coughlan added.

The Kestrel Mine Extension project included the construction of a new longwall, infrastructure like a 7.9km overland conveyor and upgrades to the existing Coal Handling and Preparation Plant, allowing mining of new series of underground panels to the south of the existing operation.

"Our new 375 metre longwall was fully assembled for testing on the surface before being pulled back apart to go underground. This longwall will deliver a range of safety and production improvements, including automation" Coughlan noted.

Rio Tinto Coal Australia manages Kestrel Mine on behalf of the joint venture partners Queensland Coal Pty and Mitsui Kestrel Coal Investment. The mine’s primary export customers are in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Europe, India and China.