Decades of court battles that started with Lang Hancock and more recently with Andrew Twiggy Forrest's Fortescue Metals Group may have achieved partial legal success but little else. Today the Allan Carpenter Labor Government in Western Australia made it clear it wanted the exclusive use of the Pilbara iron ore railways to port facilities to be opened up.
Deputy Premier and State Treasurer Eric Ripper told the media today that when original state agreements were signed for iron ore developments in the Pilbara one stipulation was that other users should be entitle to use the railway systems.
Ripper said that should the railway systems be opened up after rail haulage submissions are taken by the government, then Rio Tinto and BHPB would be expected to comply with any agreed-to third party use or face fines.
That has been a sticking point for decades with both Rio Tinto and BHPB having staved off competitors in legal battles with arguments including that the railways were under full use. Since the latest boom took shape both BHPB and Rio Tinto have had to upgrade their rail systems and port and shipping facilities.
Leading up to today's announcement it was interesting to see the big Canberra-based mining lobby Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) taking a stance supporting the rights of both BHPB and Rio Tinto to retain exclusive use of their railway systems. Historically the MCA has supported the big end of town, given that the big companies finance its existence.
As a contrast, Perth-based Association of Mining & Exploration Companies Inc (AMEC) - which represents junior and mid-sized explorers and miners - welcomed the call for public submissions on a draft third party haulage regime for the Pilbara railway network.
It has taken a considerable period of time to reach this point, and any review that aims to provide an equitable framework, as well as improved confidence, clarity and certainty and transparency ... would be welcomed by our members, said AMEC chief executive Justin Walawski.
He said AMEC will continue to promote third party access and equitable competition in the marketplace and maximisation of economic benefits.
News of the State government will be a huge incentive to the large number of budding new Pilbara iron ore miners, most of whom have already gained support or interest from Chinese, Japanese and other metal houses or steelmakers. One of their biggest stumbling blocks has been the high cost of transport infrastructure in the Pilbara.
Intierra's Minmet data base lists 150 companies operating in WA as holding iron ore prospects or projects and Mineweb estimates that at least 40% of these have tenements in the Pilbara - including the established producers and new miner Fortescue Metals.
Some of the juniors and mid tier companies that would hope to benefit from the State government move are Aquila Resources Ltd, Atlas Iron Ltd, AusQuest Ltd, BC iron Ltd, Brockman Resources Ltd, Consolidated Minerals Ltd. FerrAust Ltd, Korab Resources and Talisman Mining Ltd.