WHILE NOT on the same scale as iron ore production in the Pilbara, high prices are driving the development of new mines in the Mid West region of Western Australia.

WestNet Rail, the Babcock & Brown subsidiary that leases and manages Western Australia's 5 100 km of 1 067 mm and 1 435 mm railway owned by the state government, unveiled on June 28 a proposal that would see output from several mines funnelled on to a single dual-gauge line to the proposed deep-water port at Oakajee near Geraldton.

Under this proposal, Oakajee would be served by a new double-track line avoiding Geraldton, and joining the existing WestNet line from Mullewa at Narngulu. The line to Mullewa, currently a single narrow-gauge track, would be rebuilt east of Narngulu as a heavy haul dual-gauge double-track railway designed for high axleloads.

Mullewa, 100 km from Oakajee, would become the collecting point for all the proposed mines. It already handles 3 million tonnes a year of iron ore loaded at Ruvidni by Mount Gibson Mining for export through Geraldton Port, and Mid West Iron Ore has contracted for a further 1 million tonnes a year to be loaded at Morawa, 100 km south of Mullewa.

Where the tonnage justified it, companies mining iron ore at Koolanooka, Karara and Extension Hill would build narrow-gauge lines into Morawa. WestNet proposes that new standard-gauge lines should be built to Mullewa from ore bodies at Jack Hill and in the Weld Range up to 250 km from Mullewa.

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