Day 52-53 Tom Price moving mountains

Ahhh Tom Price where the Iron Ore trains are only 2.5 km long. Those dedicated blog readers will know that BHPs trains in Port Hedland were 3 km long. I wonder if the Rio Tinto executives have train envy? Probably not as apparently the new mine manager, just arrived in town, is female and therefore (apologies for making sexist generalisations) does not suffer envy over the size of such things.

Yes, 2.5 km long on average with each made up of 232 carriages. Each carriage holds 114 tonnes of export grade ore (Rio guarantees their customers 62% ore content per tonne) and they load four trains per day before sending them off to Dampier. You do the math, but in short it adds up to a whole lot-a-rock.

Other fascinating facts you will learn on a tour of the mine at Tom Price is that each of those great big tipper trucks run 24 hours a day 7 days a week ferrying ore from the pits to the huge stockpiles of different grade ore before it is fed into crushers to produce either coarse (pebble sized rocks) or fine (like rough sand) grade ore. The trucks refuel once every 24 hours taking on board 4920 litres of diesel. They go through it at a rate of 20 litres per kilometre! Oh yes and each truck can ferry 240 tonne of rock at a time. Yes I do have a mind like a steel trap.

For my colleagues at work the reported cost of a tyre was $60,000 a pop. The tyres are replaced every 5 months during which time they have travelled approximately 70’000 km. There are six tyres on each of the mines 31 Komatsu 830E AC and DC drive trucks (of course I know what that means).

The rich ore deposit at Tom Price was discovered back in the 60s and the mountain itself used to be 50 to 60 meters taller than it currently is. It would be shorter still I’m sure but apparently it is more productive to dig down its side rather than from the top. Another fascinating little fact was that Rio have built a new four kilometer long mountain range out of the shale rock they had to put aside in order to get to the good stuff. Staggering.

And yet for all of the huge numbers involved in describing the mining operation here I was left thinking how small it all looked in the context of this massive expanse of land which is the Pilbara. Rio is literally moving a mountain but it’s a pin point sized whole in a very big sheet of canvas. This really came home to me on the drive from Tom Price back to the coast at Exmouth where we are tonight. It is a long and lonely stretch of road with only one road house to break up the nearly 700 km drive, though the scenery is stunning.

Just 10 or so kilometres out of Paraburdoo we found ourselves pulled over on the side of the road double checking with the inhabitants of one of gods remote control vehicles (see discussion in previous blog entry regarding mining cars with flags on top) whether we were heading in the right direction. It didn’t look like a main road to me. Turns out it would have been doubly embarrassing if we weren’t, as there is only one road through that town! Still not sure why god drove that vehicle to that spot. Maybe it was just to provide me with directions…

We spent one evening on our drive to Exmouth at a free road side camp, where we hung out with some very nice families we had met at Tom Price and Karijini. Amy and Oliver covered themselves head to foot in Pilbara dirt doing laps of the site on bikes with their mates and then added to that with camp fire smoke while preparing flaming marshmallows. Good fun.

Here’s another fact I’ll bet you didn’t know. WA’s tallest mountain is located at Tom Price and is called Mt Nameless. Western Australia must be the only place in the world not to name its tallest geographic feature, or to name it nameless. I found that a little odd, or maybe it’s me that is odd, ‘Nameless’ after all is a name of sorts. At least WA’s second tallest mountain has a ‘proper Aussie name’ – Mt Bruce!

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