Prototype Profile: Iron Ore Railroads of the Pilbara Region of Western Australia

Prototype Profile: Iron Ore Railroads of the Pilbara Region of Western Australia

Iron Ore Railroads of the PilbaraSome of the best railfanning action in the world occurs along the iron ore railroads of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, where four different private railroads haul iron ore trains from various mines to terminals on the Indian Ocean coast. If you are like me and have not yet been to Australia, this is probably towards the top of your railfanning bucket list. The four lines combine for dozens of trains per day and in 2011-2012 (the most recent data I could find) the four lines combined to haul approximately 230 million metric tons (253.5 million tons) total (approximately 92% of all iron ore rail traffic in Australia).

Three of the routes – Goldsworthy & Mount Newman Railway, Fortescue Railway, and Roy Hill Railway – terminate at Port Hedland, Western Australia, while the fourth – Hamersley & Robe River Railway – terminates at Dampier and Cape Lampert. The Goldsworthy & Mount Newman and the Hamersley & Robe River Railways all date from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, while the Fortescue and Roy Hill Railways each date from the mid-2000s. The Goldsworthy & Mount Newman Railway was originally two different iron ore railroads until they were merged into one by parent company BHP Billiton in 1991. Likewise, the Hamersley & Robe River Railway was two different railroads until merged into one by parent company Pilbara Iron (now Rio Tinto) in 2001.

Hamersely Iron C628 #2000 preserved at Dampier, Western AustraliaThe older lines have gone through a series of phases of locomotives and thus could be modeled in several different eras, from their earliest days in the 1960s to the present day. In the old days, Hamersley Iron and Mount Newman Railways used Alco/MLW C636s and M636s, many of them built by contractors in Australia. A handful of former Western Pacific EMD F units even made it to Hamersley. The poor design of the C636/M636 cab led to extreme heat and smellier-than-usual toilets. This problem led to the development of a unique cab design that would eventually gain the nickname of “Pilbara cab”. Most of the C636/M636 units would be rebuilt with Pilbara cabs, and into the 1990s and early 2000s, some GE C36-7s and C40-8s were rebuilt with Pilbara cabs, and some Dash 8s were delivered new with the Pilbara cab (designated CM36-7M, CM40-8M, and CM40-8, respectively). Also, some of the remaining C636s in service were rebuilt into GE C40-8s with Pilbara cabs, and also designated as CM40-8Ms.

Modern day operations on these four railroads sees trains led by SD70ACes, SD9043MACs and SD90MAC-Hs rebuilt or scheduled to be rebuilt as SD70Aces, C44-9Ws, AC6000CWs, ES44DCs, and ES44ACs. All of these units are available from various model train manufacturers, and some even are available in factory paint for these lines.

FMG_Iron_Ore_Train_-2008For most of us, we think of high tonnage, long trains as the purview of North American trains – Union Pacific, BNSF, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific, specifically. But North American railroads do not have a monopoly on such things. In fact, the longest train in the world was one operated by the Goldsworthy & Mount Newman over the Mount Newman line on June 21, 2001. The train had 682 ore cars, weighed 99,734 metric tons (109,938 tons), carried 82,000 metric tons of iron ore (90,389.5 tons), and required eight AC6000CWs for power! A typical train operated by this railroad has 264 cars and four engines.

There are numerous possibilities for inspiration from the iron ore railroads of the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, and I hope this month’s prototype profile inspires you to either railfan the region or to build a model railroad based on these railroads.

CM40-8M leading a train on the Mount Newman line

*map by Peter Christener, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
1st Photo: Retired Hamersley Iron Alco C628 on display at Dampier, Western Australia. Photo by Nachoman-au,used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
2nd Photo: Three C44-9Ws lead a Fortescue Railway train across the Turner River bridge. Photo by Geez-oz, used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
3rd Photo: A CM40-8M leads a train on the Mount Newman line. The unit started life as a C636 built under contract, but was later rebuilt into a GE C40-8 with a Pilbara Cab. Photo by Nachoman-au,used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

 

 

List of Available Models for Pilbara Region Iron Ore Railroads

HO Scale
BHP AC6000CW from Broadway Limited Imports
BHP SD40-2 from Broadway Limited Imports
Desert King Train Set by Bachmann (BHP SD40-2 and four ore cars) – NOTE: this set is VERY hard to find
Outback Hauler Train Set by Bachmann (BHP CM40-8M and four ore cars) – NOTE: this set is VERY hard to find
BHP Iron Ore Cars from Marbleup Models
BHP Iron Ore Cars from Bachmann
Pilbara Cab from Cutting Edge Scale Models via Shapeways

O Scale
BHP SD70ACe from Overland Models, Inc.

N Scale
Pilbara Cab from Cutting Edge Scale Models via Shapeways
Hamersley Iron C628 from Atlas (scroll down the list)
BHP AC6000CW from Broadway Limited Imports

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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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