AUSTRALIAN mining group Murchison Metals Ltd announced on December 22 that it had reached a preliminary agreement for ’industrial partners’ to undertake a feasibility study for a 380 km heavy haul railway in Western Australia.

The line would link the Jack Hills deposits to a new port at Okajee, 23 km north of Geraldton. Murchison’s Executive Chairman Paul Kopetjka hopes to sign a Memorandum of Understanding shortly with Toll Holdings, Posco Engineering & Construction Co and a Japanese firm. Posco E&C is a subsidiary of South Korean steelmaker Posco Ltd.

Murchison expects to start limited mining of the haematite ore this year, but will need to complete the rail link and port at a cost of A$1·3bn before production can ramp up to the planned 25 million tonnes a year.

Work on the feasibility study is expected to be finished by the end of this year. This would pave the way for construction to start in early 2008, allowing the first ore to be shipped in mid 2010.