DESPITE the economic meltdown in South East Asia, the Hamersley Iron Railway set a new record by moving close to 60 million tonnes of ore for shipment from the port of Dampier last year. Iron ore sales were 20% up on 1996, resulting in what HIR’s owner Rio Tinto called ’some overloading of the company’s infrastructure’.

Although demand is expected to drop back in 1998, work is forging ahead on development of the Yandicoogina mine where reserves are estimated at 310 million tonnes. The US$515m project, delayed for years by delicate negotiations with the Gumala Aboriginal Corporation that are now complete, requires a 100 km railway into the eastern Hamersley range which is due to be ready when the mine goes into production next year. It takes the form of an extension to the 50 km branch from Rosella, 250 km from Dampier, which opened to Marandoo in 1994. Earthworks for a further 50 km commenced about five years ago.

On the west coast of Western Australia, a 138 km standard gauge line is planned to bring iron ore from a proposed mine at Tallering Peak, 65 km north of Mullewa, to the An Feng Kingstream steelworks at Oakajee, part of a planned industrial development on the coast 20 km north of Geraldton. Oakajee - rail served until 1957 - would also be linked to Westrail’s 1067mm gauge network by a new line from Narngulu to the east of Geraldton, which would form a dual-gauge route with the ore line for the final 13 km.

Meanwhile, a shortlist of bidders to finance, build and operate the Alice Springs to Darwin line was expected to be announced last month, after the federal government finally produced a A$100m contribution from the Federation Fund. o