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The High Court has dismissed an application by the mining giant BHP Billiton, to prevent rival Fortescue Metals from gaining access to its Goldsworthy and Mt Newman railway lines in Western Australia.
Fortescue Metals argued that it should be able to use the 312 kilometres of the Pilbara railway lines that were built by BHP, which run from a remote mine site to Port Hedland.
BHP appealed against a Federal Court decision in favour of Fortescue, arguing that the railway was central to the company's production process.
BHP built the line with its own cash and benefitted from significant tax incentives.
The Federal Court had asked why taxpayers, if they had essentially underwritten the railway, should not have an interest in its efficient use.
Counsel for BHP responded that the railway's efficiency would decline if Fortescue was allowed to use it, and that would have a negative effect on the Australian economy.
Today the High Court dismissed BHP's appeal, saying that while the track was integral to BHP's operations, Fortescue's proposed use of the railway line should be considered a service provided by the use of an infrastructure facility.
The decison gives Fortescue Metals the right to negotiate for access to the rail line.
The North West Iron Ore Alliance is hoping BHP Billiton will negotiate with junior iron ore miners after the High Court dismissed its appeal in the Pilbara Rail Access dispute.
Alliance Chairwoman, Megan Anwyl, says it could be a landmark decision for future litigation.
"We say the majors have obligations under their existing State Agreements to allow for some haulage, this of course goes a step further with open track access," she said.
"This could be an absolute landmark decision in terms of the lengthy litigious struggle that's been going on to sort out these issues."
Source: ABC News
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