COMPETITION to build rail and port infrastructure serving iron ore mines in the Mid West region of Western Australia is hotting up as rival groups vie for the right to develop the planned deep-water port at Oakajee north of Geraldton.

After WestNet Rail unveiled proposals for a single dual-gauge route in June (RG 8.07 p474), it signed an MoU on July 30 with Murchison Metals Ltd, which has begun shipping ore from its mine at Jack Hills using road trains. Murchison announced on September 21 that it had joined forces with Mitsubishi Development Corp to develop mining activity and form a joint venture called Oakajee Port & Rail. Pitted against them are Midwest Corp and Yilgarn Infrastructure Ltd. On August 17 Yilgarn signed a deal with five Chinese companies 'to underpin the A$750m equity needed'.

On October 8 the WA government ruled that 'the right to construction of the port will be subject to a contestable process, limited to the two mining companies who have requested this right'. Minister for Planning & Infrastructure Alannah MacTiernan said WestNet Rail would be given the opportunity to develop a link into Oakajee and that the state government would identify a corridor for the rail link from the Jack Hills and Weld Range mines to Mullewa. If the proponents chose to build their own railway all the way to Oakerjee, the government would identify a corridor and co-ordinate approvals.

The government was clearly hoping that the rivals would work together, and Murchison responded with an A$987m takeover bid for Midwest on October 10. Meanwhile, Yilgarn announced on October 31 that it was 'progressing definitive feasibility studies' for the port with China Communications Construction Corp.