Fortescue Metals Group Ltd - Port and Rail Infrastructure

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Port and Rail Infrastructure

Fortescue purpose-designed and constructed rail and port facilities to support the development and sale of the Pilbara's stranded iron ore bodies. Construction of Herb Elliott Port and Rail infrastructure was completed in record time. Significant expansion has been undertaken to support the increased tonnes from the mines.


Fortescue’s railway was the first large-scale railway development undertaken in the Pilbara in more than 40 years. The company’s rail infrastructure consists of 620 kilometres of track. Its rail network is the fastest and heaviest haul line in the world with a 40 tonne axle load capacity.

Fortescue operates up to 14 trains a day, each carrying 32,880 tonnes of iron ore. Its rail fleet compromises 45 locomotives, 3,244 ore wagons, 30 fuel tanker wagons, 37 ballast wagons, 10 side dump cars, 19 rail carrying cars and eight compressor cars.

Located 15km inland from Port Hedland are the Thomas Yard and Kanyirri Yard service hubs for Fortescue’s rail operations. Named after former Port and Rail Expansion Project Director Peter Thomas, Thomas Yard houses Fortescue’s rail support centre and rail maintenance including locomotive and ore car maintenance workshops.

Completed in May 2013, the new ore car maintenance workshop incorporates some of the world’s most advanced engineering and automotive technology in heavy haul maintenance.

Kanyirri Yard recognises the local Aboriginal name for the area and contains a locomotive provisioning facility, as well as a fuel storage facility capable of storing six million litres of diesel.

Fortescue’s Train Control Centre is located in Perth and is in the process of introducing an Integrated Train Control System where trains are tracked by GPS and operating instructions are delivered direct to the train via digital communications providing greater utilisation efficiency and improved safety controls.

Key dates

  • 2006, November Special Rail Licence (SRL) granted which allowed construction to commence
  • 2007, February Official launch of track laying between Cloudbreak and Port Hedland
  • 2008, April — First iron ore on train to Herb Elliott Port
  • 2009, May — Fortescue Rail makes the 1000th train journey from Cloudbreak to Herb Elliott Port
  • 2011, December — Fortescue moves to AC traction locomotives by taking delivery of 9 rebuilt SD90 locomotives from the United States
  • 2012, June — Fortescue commences hauling iron ore at a rate of 72 million tonnes per annum
  • 2012, July — Fortescue takes delivery of the first of its order for 21 SD70 locomotives from the United States
  • 2012, November — Fortescue opens the Great Northern Highway overpass
  • 2012, December — Solomon Railway opens and first commissioning train leaves Solomon mine site
  • 2013, January — Kanyirri Yard housing Fortescue’s rail operations and a new locomotive provisioning shed and fuel facility opens
  • 2013, May — Construction of the ore car maintenance workshop at Thomas Yard is completed
  • 2013, September —State-of-the-art ore car maintenance facility opened utilising robotics and automation to service Fortescue’s ore cars and ancillary fleet
  • 2013, November - Rake 12 fully operational
  • 2013, December – Rake 3 fully operational

Herb Elliott Port

Herb Elliott Port is in Port Hedland, Western Australia, the world’s best address for iron ore. In August 2013, Fortescue officially opened its fourth berth signalling the completion of a US$2.4 billion expansion of its port facilities. The port infrastructure features four shiploading berths and three shiploaders providing efficiency and flexibility for operations.

Construction of a fifth berth is expected to start in late 2013 and be completed in 2014.

The state of the art infrastructure at Herb Elliott Port comprises some of the largest and most technologically sophisticated port equipment in the world. The site sits on two million square metres of reclaimed land and was designed and constructed with expandability as a priority.

Port Infrastructure

Herb Elliott Port consists of three inload and two outload circuits. The inload circuits unload the ore from the trains and stack it onto blended stockpiles. The outload circuits reclaim the iron ore from the stockpiles and verify the quality via two robotic sample plants before loading the ore onto ships.

At the three train unloaders, a rack and pinion indexer unit takes control of the loaded rake and pushes it into the train unloader cell two cars at a time. There are 240 wagons per train, each carrying 137 tonnes of ore. Cars are tipped and their iron ore contents unloaded every 85 seconds. The iron ore is dumped onto an apron feeder and transported via a conveyor belt moving at 5.5 metres per second to one of the port’s three stackers. The stackers build the iron ore into 18 separate stockpiles, catering for various Fortescue and third party products.

Fortescue’s shiploaders are the only permanently manned infrastructure on the site to ensure the cargo is safely distributed according to a ship’s loading plan.

Key dates

  • 2006, November — Construction starts at the Herb Elliott Port site.
  • 2008, April — First train of iron ore from Cloudbreak is unloaded and stockpiled at Herb Elliott Port.
  • 2008, May — Fortescue’s first shipment of iron ore loaded onto the Heng Shan [Chinese for ‘Everlasting mountain’].
  • 2012, February — The third berth and a second outloading circuit open, taking Fortescue’s outload capacity to more than 100mtpa.
  • 2012, September — The second train unloader is commissioned, increasing Fortescue’s inload capacity to 120mtpa.
  • 2012, November — The third train unloader is commissioned, increasing Fortescue’s inload capacity to 155mtpa. Fortescue breaks the record for the largest single iron ore shipment to leave Port Hedland with 254,010 tonnes on Abigail N.
  • 2012, December — Fortescue loads its 200 millionth tonne of iron ore from Herb Elliott Port.
  • 2013, April — The third reclaimer and yard conveyor are commissioned maximising the flexibility of the port’s outload operations. Fortescue breaks the record for the largest single iron ore shipment to leave Port Hedland set in November 2012 by 1,802 tonnes, with 255,816 tonnes shipped on PSU Seventh.
  • 2013, August – Officially opening of the fourth berth at Herb Elliott Port marks completion of US$2.4 billion expansion.