Jobs saved as MinRes iron ore train rolls into WA community for first time in five months
Summary: Iron ore shipments out of Esperance are set to resume in the coming weeks after train loads of ore again started rolling into town.....
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On Thursday morning, the first commercial trial load of iron ore fines from the Koolyanobbing mine, under Mineral Resources ownership, arrived at the West Australian port.
It is the first train load of ore in almost six months after previous mine owners Cliffs placed the Yilgarn-based project on care and maintenance.
The decision put hundreds of jobs at risk in the Southern Cross, Kalgoorlie, and Esperance communities.
Complexities of re-starting mine
At the 11th hour the West Australian State Government intervened with an incentive package for a company to take on the Cliff's project.
MinRes, a company run by mining magnate Chris Ellison, picked up the keys about three months ago.
The company's Gary Gray said this week's train movement signified name plate capacity for the project and the first shipment could be as early as next week.
"Next week, that's what we're hoping," he said.
"We'd have preferred it to be operating quicker but then again, that's the nature of our firm.
"It's got a strong contracting culture and we place foremost the safety of our workers getting the job done quickly and cleanly, so we'd have liked to be working earlier.
"It's a complex business re-starting a mine that has closed and it's a complicated business giving certainty and surety to the port.
"[We also want] to manage the noise issues at the port so that the people of Esperance get the enjoyment they want out of a working, vibrant port and so we can restore the commercial value of iron ore exports."
The company says they have worked hard to get the trains moving again. (Supplied; Southern Ports Authority)
MinRes has had to make adjustment to the rail car dumper at the port to suit the company's rolling stock.
Cliffs used side tipping carts, whereas MinRes uses bottom dumpers and it is expected the new way of offloading the ore will be quieter and emit less dust.
Mr Gray said the company had worked hard to get the trains moving again.
"It's a proud day for us" he said.
"It's a significant milestone for Esperance, for the workers of Esperance, for the government, for the hard work that the Esperance port has put into this job to rescue jobs and support jobs for a long time yet to come."
Jobs saved, workers return
While some jobs have been saved, MinRes will not be mining at the same rate as Cliffs, meaning while the life of the mine has been extended, the company does not need as many staff as Cliffs did.
The operations will provide direct employment for 285 people and indirect employment for 415 more.
The company has been testing the rail infrastructure since taking the project on three months ago, sending trial loads, both empty and full, to the south-east coastal port.
It has been a test for the company as well as for staff, many of who have returned to the project since Mineral Resources took over.
Mineral Resources say they are confident about their future in the region. (Supplied: Mineral Resources Limited)
Mr Gray said while the mine life at Koolyanobbing was not infinite, he was confident of their future in the region.
"We're a mining company and we look for mining opportunities," he said.
"We're very confident in our future in the region due to our diverse portfolio.
"We also believe that we can mine at Koolyanobbing for several years yet to come, to mine to completion the resources that were there in the name of Cliffs.
"We're optimistic that in the future we'll get access to other resources but most importantly, as a mining company we're always on the lookout for good opportunity that can support jobs and can support great communities like Esperance."
Port welcomes first train
Port operator Southern Ports has welcomed the recommencement of iron ore trade through Esperance.
Iron ore exports under Cliffs accounted for more than half the annual throughput for the port.
Interim chief executive Alan Byers said the inaugural train was a welcome sight.
"The arrival of iron ore at Esperance port today is a significant milestone that would not have been possible without the goodwill of Mineral Resources and the State Government," he said.
"This trade helps support almost 100 jobs at Southern Ports in Esperance, many of which are directly involved in managing iron ore."
Mr Byers said Southern Ports worked with Mineral Resources to ensure plant, equipment, and IT systems were fit for purpose.
He expects about 15 trains per week of iron ore as part of an estimated 6 to 6.25 million tonnes annual iron ore export for the next five years.