Article – MinRes eyes Pilbara skyrail

20 February 2015
Nick Evans
The West Australian
Mineral Resources chief executive Chris Ellison wants to build a 330km Pilbara skyrail to carry iron ore from its Iron Valley operation to Port Hedland.
Mr Ellison floated the industry-first proposal during a presentation of MinRes’ half-year result yesterday, saying it could start building an elevated rail line by the end of the year.
He said the automated system, Bulk Ore Transport System (BOTS), could be built for $700 million to $800 million and transport up to 40 million tonnes of iron ore a year from stranded deposits in the south-east Pilbara.
He said MinRes planned to use the system to transport about 12mt of ore from Iron Valley, owned by BC Iron but operated by MinRes under a joint venture agreement, and would make the remaining capacity available to other companies in the region with stranded assets.
The track, which Mr Ellison described as halfway between a conveyor belt and a traditional rail line, would rest on concrete pylons driven into the Pilbara dirt every 6m for the 330km between MinRes’ Iron Valley operations and Port Hedland.
Mr Ellison said MinRes believed BOTS could be built for about a quarter of the cost of a traditional heavy rail system because it would not need the massive land clearing and earthworks necessary for ordinary track laying, nor require bridges or flyovers.
“We basically drive piles in the ground every six or so metres, and we put some beams on top of that and then we have the running system on that for the rolling stock,” he said.
“There’s very little ground preparation work. It’s very simple, it’s a very known design that we’re putting on whatever ground conditions we find, within reason. The risks associated with it are negligible.”
Mr Ellison said the company’s manufacturing partner, China Southern Rail, would soon start work on a 3.5km test track.
MinRes hoped to have State Government approvals this year and start building before year end if all went well.
The MinRes boss renewed his attack on the cost of shipping ore from Port Hedland’s Utah Point berth, run by the Pilbara Ports Authority. It was talking to the State Government about cutting costs but planned to build a trans-shipping facility at Port Hedland, and use barges to transfer its ore to bigger ships waiting offshore.
“Utah Point is too expensive to fit the equation. Unless you can get ore into China for less than $US45/t it’s hard to justify having a long-term business,” he said.
MinRes managing director Chris Ellison. Picture: Danella Bevis/The West Australian.
Courtesy of The West Australian