Before I started this trip I lived in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, which is a big coal mining district. I saw all the trains heading to the port loaded with coal and thought it was big business ….it is, but nothing compared to the mining up here in the Pilbarra. All the politicians and economists used to talk about a “2 speed economy” and when you get up here you really see what they mean. There are mining and construction vehicles everywhere, with armies of workers in hi-vis shirts everywhere. While I was at Karajini I took one of the tours through Rio Tinto’s Tom Price mine, and some of the numbers the guide quoted were amazing.
The lookout where this photo was taken was 120 metres below the original summit of the hill, it’s at least that much down from the lookout to the bottom of that pit, just one of their pits. They have been mining here for 50 years, and think there is enough iron ore left for another 100 years or so.
These haul trucks can move 250 tonnes at a time, and gulp down the diesel at 20 litres/km when going uphill loaded ! No wonder this mine uses over 1 million litres of diesel per week !
Then it is crushed, sorted, stacked and loaded onto the trains that take the ore to the port. The trains are two and a half kilometres long, each load is worth around 3 million dollars, and can be loaded in as little as 1 hour 19 minutes, with up to a dozen loaded trains at any one time.
The drivers of these ore trains earn $200,000, fly in, fly out …did you ever want to be a train driver as a kid ? I wish I was at that salary ! Rio Tinto plan to make these trains driverless, operating them remotely from their Control HQ in Perth. They already have some driverless Haul trucks at other mines apparently …250 tonnes of truck running around under remote control seems a bit scary to me !
And finally the ore ends up at the coast, ready for export to China, Korea, Japan etc. No doubt some of it comes back in the form of Toyotas, Kias and Great Wall utes ! It’s definitely big business, too big to imagine, numbers too big to comprehend until you come up here and see it for yourself.