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Fortescue gains ground in epic battle for rail track

<p>Fortescue Metals Group has claimed a small win in its David and Goliath battle for access to Western Australia’s rail infrastructure, after mining heavyweight BHP Billiton was ordered last week to hand over its legal advice on the issue.</p> <p>The Federal Court is hearing a dispute between BHP and the National Competition Council (NCC) over whether BHP’s rail infrastructure is an integral part of its iron ore production flow.</p> <p>The decision gives the court access to legal advice prepared for BHP in 1998, when it was considering spinning off its Pilbara operations to Macquarie Corporate Finance.</p> <p>The outcome of the case will be crucial for Fortescue, owned in part by entrepreneur Andrew Forrest, because it needs access to about 300 km of rail track in the Pilbara to move about 45m tonnes of iron ore from its Christmas Creek and Cloud Break projects.</p> <p>While BHP and Rio Tinto control the rail infrastructure, Fortescue is building its own port facilities at Anderson Point, near Port Hedland, in time to begin production in early 2008. </p> <p>BHP wants its Mt Newman and Goldsworthy lines excluded from the open-access laws under the Trade Practices Act because it believes allowing other users on the rail line will disrupt its volumes.</p> <p>The battle between the two heated up when federal treasurer Peter Costello decided by default in May not to grant the company access to the Mount Newman rail line in Western Australia. </p> <p>The NCC had made a draft recommendation in March that the rail infrastructure be opened up to third parties. </p> <br />