DETAILED plans are taking shape for a heavy-haul iron ore railway on Baffin Island in northern Canada. The line is intended to link the Mary River deposits with a deep-water port from which the ore would be shipped to steel producers in Europe.

The Mary River deposits were identified in the 1960s, but were not considered viable to exploit until the recent rise in world demand. On May 16 promoter Baffinland Iron Mines Corp released a scoping study by Aker Kvaerner which puts the mine life at 34 years, with an average output of 10 million tonnes a year and a 15% rate of return.

Canarail has been commissioned to develop the rail elements of the project, which are priced at around C$350m. The preferred route runs northwest for 105 km to Milne Inlet, but a 140 km southern route to Steensby Inlet, which has a longer navigation season, is also being considered. The rail infrastructure is being designed to protect the permafrost and minimise the effects of drifting snow.

The line would be worked by a fleet of three trainsets formed of a 4000hp loco and 64 wagons. Each 983m train would handle a net load of 6141 tonnes. The anticipated production rate would require 1680 trains/year or an average of six per day during a 280-day operating season.

Baffinland expects to complete environmental impact studies by the end of 2007, and basic engineering in 2008, allowing the start of construction in 2009. This would see the mine and rail link begin operation in 2011. n