UPDATE 2-Colombia's coal railway says workers to return in hours
* Colombian court ruled Fenoco strike illegal
* Drummond to lift force majeure in days
* Court postpones decision on La Jagua strike
By Jacqueline Cowhig and Jack Kimball
LONDON/BOGOTA, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Colombia's main coal railway, Fenoco, said on Wednesday that laborers would return to work "in the coming hours" to begin restarting operations after a three-week strike paralyzed more than half of coal exports from the Andean nation.
The walkout at Fenoco, which moves coal to port for Drummond, Goldman Sachs affiliates and Glencore's Prodeco unit, had caused limited force majeure on some shipments from the world's No. 4 coal exporter.
"In the coming hours, the company and its workers will return to their places and work stations to restart each and every one of the operations," the company said in a statement.
The announcement came after more than 50 percent of workers voted on Monday to lift the strike, and a Colombia court ruled late on Tuesday that the walkout was illegal.
The company had said earlier that workers should return to their jobs by Thursday.
Customers said on Wednesday that Drummond International , Colombia's second-largest coal exporter, would start lifting its force majeure on shipments within days now that the rail workers' strike had been declared illegal.
"Drummond informed us late (Tuesday) that they would start shipping again when they have coal at the port, but there are likely to be some delays for another month," one customer said.
"They (Drummond) told us they would start lifting the force majeure within a few days on a cargo-by-cargo basis," another major buyer said, adding that the force majeure had not affected all customers.
Force majeure is a contract clause under which buyers or sellers can be released from their commitment due to circumstances beyond their control.
The strike by rail workers on the Fenoco line halted exports from the main producing region of Cesar and cost the government more than $1.2 million a day in royalties.
Some 4 million tonnes of Colombian export thermal coal has been cut from the total that could be shipped this year, industry sources said.
Prompt thermal coal prices fell more than $2 a tonne on Wednesday to $93.50 to $94 a tonne after the Colombian rail strike ruling, anticipating that exports would soon return to normal, European utilities and traders said.
Coal prices had nudged close to $100 a tonne after dropping to a two-year low of around $82 in June, bolstered by the strikes by workers on Colombia's Fenoco railway and at Glencore's Prodeco mining unit.
Prodeco, whose La Jagua mine workers are still on a separate strike and which also canceled cargos on a case-by-case basis due to the Fenoco strike, has not given customers an update on when shipments would resume.
Another Colombian court postponed a decision on the legality of the 28-day strike at Prodeco's La Jagua coal mine until Aug. 27, Ricardo Machado of the Sintraminergetica union told Reuters.
La Jagua's coal is the highest quality produced in Colombia and when not blended, is a niche market material, industry sources said. Glencore's Prodeco operations consist of La Jagua and Calenturitas.
The Fenoco court ruling will likely put more pressure on the company to try to reach a deal with striking La Jagua workers.
"It doesn't really suit (Prodeco) that the Fenoco strike was lifted before La Jagua," a Colombian coal industry source said.
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