A three-decade-long dream comes true
The idea of developing the West Angelas project was tabled back in the 1970s, but it took three decades for it to actually get under way. Since the mine is located over 400 kilometers from the coast, the exorbitant cost of constructing a railway track from the mine to the Cape Lambert port was one of several factors, along with the oil shocks and labor troubles of the 1970s and 1980s, that held the project back. It seemed as though the West Angelas project would end up as nothing more than a dream, passed down from generation to generation.
Construction of the mine finally began in March 2000. Soon after, mining major Rio Tinto became part of the Robe River joint venture when it acquired the joint venture’s previous majority partner, North Limited, in August 2000. Now, with Rio Tinto as a partner, the joint venture was able to transport West Angelas ore to the coast and load it on ships using a combination of Rio Tinto’s and the joint venture’s own railway lines and ports. Integrating the operation of railways lines, ports, power generation and other infrastructure delivered more cost savings by boosting efficiency and capacity.
Buoyed by robust demand from China, the Robe River joint venture has continued to invest aggressively in West Angelas in the years since. It expanded the capacity of the Cape Lambert port from 55 million tons per annum (Mt/a) in the early 2000s to over 200 million tons in 2015, an increase of almost four times. It has also expanded the mine itself, developing several new deposits in addition to the first one to sustain and increase the mine’s production capacity.