Hamersley & Robe River railway

The Hamersley & Robe River railway, majority-owned by the Rio Tinto Group, and operated by its subsidiary Pilbara Iron, is a private rail network in the Pilbara region of Western Australia for the purpose of carrying iron ore. The network is larger than any other Australian heavy freight rail network in private ownership. The total length of its track is about 1,300 km (807.78 mi).[1]

Hamersley & Robe River Railway
Iron ore train leaving the Brockman 4 mine in June 2012
TypeHeavy rail
LocalePilbara, Western Australia
TerminiMesa J, Brockman, Paraburdoo, West Angelas, Hope Downs, Yandi mines
Dampier, Cape Lambert
Opened1 July 1966
Operator(s)Rio Tinto
Depot(s)Tom Price
Cape Lambert
Line length1,300 km (807.78 mi)
Track gauge1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

In addition to the Pilbara Iron network, there are three other iron ore rail lines in the Pilbara. BHP Billiton operate the Goldsworthy and Mount Newman railways, while Fortescue Metals Group operate the Fortescue railway.[2][3]


Hamersley railway

The first part of the Pilbara Iron rail network to be constructed was a line known as the Hamersley railway, between a newly opened mine at Tom Price and a newly constructed port (now the port of Dampier) at King Bay.[4]

The Hamersley railway project began in December 1964, when Japanese steel mills agreed to purchase iron ore from Hamersley Iron over 16 years beginning in August 1966. The railway's route was chosen after two aerial surveys and comparisons of numerous possible alternatives.[4]

In April 1965, a joint venture, Morrison-Knudsen-Mannix-McDonald, was appointed as construction contractor. Excavations commenced at Dampier on 16 June 1965. Until the completion of a service wharf at that location, cargo had to be brought ashore on lighters, or unloaded at Point Samson. On 6 September 1965, the freighter Katsura Maru became the first vessel to berth at the service wharf; its cargo included the railway's first four locomotives.[4]

The original track for the Hamersley railway was 59 kg/m (119 lb/yd) rails manufactured in Japan, laid on sleepers of Jarrah and Wandoo timber from Western Australia with dog spike fastenings and ballasted with 15.2 cm (6 in) of crushed stone. For most of the construction period, track was laid at a rate of 2.4 km (1.5 mi) per day. On 23 June 1966, the first ore train ran from Tom Price to the coast, and on 1 July 1966 the line was officially opened by the then Minister for Industrial Development, Charles Court.[5][6]

In 1970, construction began on an extension of the Hamersley railway from Wombat Junction, just north of Tom Price, to a second mine, at Paraburdoo, about 64 km (39.77 mi) south west of Tom Price. Engineering design and construction management for the extension was undertaken by Minenco; the contractors were a joint venture known as Morrison-Knudsen-Mannix-Oman (MKMO). The Paraburdoo extension incorporated a number of design improvements. In particular, the track was made from heavier, 68 kg/m (137 lb/yd) rail sections, which were flashbutt and thermit welded into continuous rails, and attached by pandrol clips to timber sleepers. Construction was completed in March 1972, and the first official Paraburdoo train ran on 5 May 1972.[7][8]

In 1972, a programme of rerailing the original railway began. In that year, 12 km (7.46 mi) of 59 kg/m (119 lb/yd) track and dog spikes were replaced with 68 kg/m (137 lb/yd) track and pandrol clips. The replacement programme continued until its completion in 1977. Hamersley Iron also arranged for test installation of concrete sleepers at various locations from November 1973. The tests were successful, and in 1980 work commenced on the re-sleepering of the original railway with concrete sleepers, a task completed in 1986.[9][10]

The Hamersley railway was subsequently expanded with the construction of spur lines to Marandoo, Brockman and the Yandicoogina mines.[11]

Robe River railway

The other main component of the Pilbara Iron network is the Robe River railway, which was constructed for a joint venture known as Cliffs Robe River Iron Associates. This railway originally linked the joint venture's first mine, near Pannawonica in the Robe River valley, with a pelletising plant and port at Cape Lambert.[12]

The Robe River railway project was given the go ahead on 1 July 1970. The construction contract was awarded to the MKMO joint venture. In May 1971, the first track materials were unloaded at the service wharf at Cape Lambert. Tracklaying from Cape Lambert to Pannawonica then proceeded between January and May 1972. The first Robe River ore train, operating under test conditions, ran on 6 July 1972. The first official train carrying production ore followed on 8 August 1972; it consisted of 75 wagons hauled by two locomotives. One week later, the Robe River railway was finally accepted from the contractor.[12]

Pilbara Iron

In 2001, after taking over North Limited the majority owner of Robe River Iron, Rio Tinto merged the Hamersley and Robe River rail operations under the Pilbara Rail banner. The merger generated more than $16 million in savings.[13] In 2004, Rio Tinto announced that Hamersley and Robe would start merging the rest of its operations under a new Pilbara Iron entity.[14] Pilbara Rail was folded into Pilbara Iron in 2005.[13]

As of 2010, the Pilbara Iron network served 11 mines in the Pilbara region, transporting 220 million tonnes of iron ore to the ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert annually.[1]

In November 2007, the National Competition Council of Australia received an application from Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) to access part of the Hamersley railway.[15] In January 2008, another application was lodged by FMG, this time for access to the Robe River railway.[16] Earlier, in June 2004, the Council had received an application from FMG to use of part of BHP Billiton's Mount Newman railway and also part of the Goldsworthy railway.[17]

In May 2008, Rio Tinto suffered a setback when the Federal Court of Australia rejected an attempt by Rio to block the Fortescue Metals Group from using their rail network.[18] Following this, in June 2010, the Australian Competition Tribunal ruled that Fortescue would be granted access to the Robe River line and BHP Billiton's Goldsworthy line but not to the busier Hamersley and Mount Newman lines.[19][20] Treasurer Wayne Swan suggested that several advantages would accrue from access to the rail lines by third parties. It would increase competition, reduce duplication of infrastructure, and reduce environmental damage.[21]

Access to the rail networks by third parties is governed by the State Agreements Act.[22]


Rio Tinto iron ore train consist of up to 236 wagons, each having a load capacity of up to 106 tonnes. Trains are up to 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) long and, fully loaded, weigh approximately 29,500 tonnes. The trains have an average cycle time of 28 hours.[1]

Rolling stock

Hamersley Iron locomotives

To operate construction trains, Hamersley Iron purchased a former Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway Alco S-2 shunter (007). To haul the iron ore trains five Alco C-628 locomotives (2001-2005) were purchased in 1965-67, two being built in Schenectady and three by AE Goodwin in Sydney. All had been retired by 1982 with one preserved on a plinth at 7 Mile Yard.[23]

In May 1968 a two-year-old former demonstrator Alco C-415 (008, later 1000) was purchased.[24] After being withdrawn in February 1982 and donated to the Pilbara Railway Historical Society, it was reactivated in September 1991 to operate construction trains on the under construction Marandoo line.[25][26][27]

In May 1968 the first two, of what by 1980 would total 39 (3006-3017), (4030-4056), Alco C-636s (3006-3017) and MLW M-636s (4030-4056) were delivered. The earlier deliveries were manufactured by AE Goodwin, with the later examples manufactured by Commonwealth Engineering.[28]

Between 1981 and 1985, 24 were rebuilt by Comeng, Bassendean with new cabs as CE636Rs.[29] Most were withdrawn in 1995, with 10 sold to Austrac Ready Power and shipped to Perth for an aborted rebuild.[30] One (3017) has been preserved by the Pilbara Railway Historical Society.[27][28]

In April 1978 three Class 50 GE Transportation C36-7s (5057-5059) manufactured by A Goninan & Co, Broadmeadow were delivered. These were withdrawn in 1997 and in August 1998 sold to National Railway Equipment Company and exported to the United States.[30] All were leased to the Norfolk Southern Railway. In 2006 one was sold to the Minnesota Commercial Railroad and the other two to Ferrocarril de Antofagasta a Bolivia in Chile.[31]

Accompanying the three Class 50s on the voyage from Newcastle, was former Great Western Railway steam locomotive Pendennis Castle that had been purchased by Hamersley Iron. Until its October 1994 withdrawal, Pendennis Castle' operated charter services on the Hamersley Iron network hauling former New South Wales Government Railways S type passenger carriages. Rio Tinto donated the locomotive to the Great Western Society, Didcot and in April 2000 was repatriated back to England.[32][33]

In 1982 five Class 60 Electro Motive Diesel SD50Ss (6060-6064) were manufactured by Clyde Engineering, Rosewater. In November 1995, all were withdrawn and in August 1998 sold to National Railway Equipment Company and exported to the United States.[30] After being leased to the Norfolk Southern Railroad all were sold in 2001 to the Utah Railway.[34]

Robe River locomotives

In August 1971 Cliffs Robe River Iron associates (C.R.R.I.A) took delivery two New South Wales 40 class locomotives (9401 & 9405) to operate construction trains. After the line opened they were used as shunters at Cape Lambert until withdrawn in 1979. 9405 was donated to the Pilbara Railways Historical Society and returned to working order, while 9401 was donated to the Wickham Lions Club and placed on a plinth at the tourist information bay.[27][35]

Between October 1971 and June 1980, C.R.R.I.A took delivery of 12 MLW M-636 locomotives (9410-9416 & 9421-9425). In May 1981 another (9424) was purchased second hand from the Burlington Northern Railroad. In 1986 a further two were purchased from Conrail and rebuilt as CE636Rs at Comeng, Bassendean before entering service as 9426 and 9427.[28] In May 1989 another (9417) was purchased from Burlington North Railroad and rebuilt by A Goninan & Co, Perth. Between June 1989 and April 1996, a further 12 were rebuilt by A Goninan & Co as CM40-8Ms. In 2012 some were sold to Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia and taken to UGL Rail, Perth for overhaul. Only one has entered service.[36]

In January 1975, four 1965 built ex Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Alco C-630 locomotives (9417-9420) were delivered to C.R.R.I.A. One (9417) was destroyed in an accident in February 1979, with the remaining three rebuilt by A Goninan & Co to the same specifications as the replacement 9417 in 1990/91.[37][38]

Rio Tinto locomotives

In February 1995, 29 GE Transportation Dash 9-44CWs were delivered in one shipment from Erie, Pennsylvania.[30] Because 13 had been deck cargo, they received corrosion damage and required remedial attention before entering service. Further orders brought the total to 72 (7043-7050, 7053-7098, 9401-9409 & 9428-9436).[39][40]

Since 2007, 97 GE Transportation ES44DCis (8100-8196) have been delivered.[41]


Rail depots are located at Tom Price, Cape Lambert and Dampier while the train control is based in Perth.[1]


The Pilbara Iron rail network transports ore from the following Rio Tinto-operated mines to the ports at Dampier and Cape Lambert:[42]


  1. Rail Rio Tinto
  2. Rail BHP Billiton
  3. Railroad Operations Fortescue Metals
  4. Joyce, John; Tilley, Allan (1980). Railways in the Pilbara (2nd ed.). Wembley, WA: J & A Publications. p. 41. ISBN 0959969926. OCLC 222691305.
  5. Joyce; Tilley (1980). pages 41–42.
  6. Hamersley Iron (1985). Hamersley Iron Railway. Dampier, WA: Hamersley Iron. pp. 4, 33, 82. ISBN 0 9590646 21.
  7. Joyce; Tilley (1980). pages 43–44.
  8. Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd (1985). pages 22, 82.
  9. Joyce; Tilley (1980). page 44.
  10. Hamersley Iron (1985). pages 22, 33–35, 82–83.
  11. Hamersley Freight Line, Australia railway-technology.com, accessed: 4 November 2010
  12. Joyce; Tilley (1980). page 79.
  13. "Farewell to Pilbara Rail" (PDF), Minera, Pilbara Iron, no. 5, pp. 20–21, April 2005, archived from the original (PDF) on 29 August 2007, retrieved 1 October 2007
  14. Rio Tinto and Robe River progress on Pilbara cooperation Archived 31 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine, 13 January 2004
  15. Application for declaration of the Hamersley Railway National Competition Council of Australia
  16. Application for declaration of the Robe Railway National Competition Council of Australia
  17. Application for declaration of the Mt Newman Railway National Competition Council of Australia
  18. Rio Tinto suffers setback over Pilbara rail network ABC News, published: 6 May 2008, accessed: 4 November 2010
  19. Junior miners win limited access to Pilbara rail network lloydslistdcn.com.au, published: 1 July 2010, accessed: 4 November 2010
  20. Watchdog 'can demand Pilbara rail expansion' The Australian, published: 13 May 2010, accessed: 4 November 2010
  21. BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto angry on open Pilbara rail line news.com.au, published: 28 October 2008, accessed: 4 November 2010
  22. Report on Current Transport and Communications Infrastructure in the Pilbara Murdoch University, accessed: 4 November 2010
  23. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 337–338. ISBN 9781921719011.
  24. Alco's C415 - Original Owners Train Web
  25. Preserved Alco & MLW-built Centuries Diesel Shop US
  26. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 352–353. ISBN 9781921719011.
  27. Exhibits Pilbara Railway Historical Society
  28. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 353–357. ISBN 9781921719011.
  29. CE636R Railpage
  30. "Hammersley Loco Update" Railway Digest November 1998 pages 33, 36
  31. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 384–385. ISBN 9781921719011.
  32. "Pendennis Castle to Head Home This Month" Railway Digest April 2000 page 19
  33. "Pendennis Castle on its Way Home" Railway Digest June 2000 page 17
  34. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 390–391. ISBN 9781921719011.
  35. Railway Digest February 2012
  36. Train sets available for lease in 2013/14 Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia
  37. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 380–381. ISBN 9781921719011.
  38. Clark, Peter (2012). An Australian Locomotive Guide. Rosenberg Publishing. p. 110. ISBN 9781921719554.
  39. Oberg, Leon (2010). Locomotives of Australia 1850s-2010s. Kenthurst: Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 420–421. ISBN 9781921719011.
  40. Dash 9-44CW Railpage
  41. Clark, Peter (2012). An Australian Locomotive Guide. Rosenberg Publishing. pp. 276–277. ISBN 9781921719554.
  42. Mining Archived 12 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Rio Tinto Iron Ore website, accessed: 4 November 2010

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.