Brockman Mining (BRM) has struck a blow against Fortescue Metals (FMG) in the latest battle by juniors wanting access to the major miners' rail lines.
Hong Kong-based Brockman successfully convinced Western Australia's independent Economic Regulation Authority to reject Fortescue's attempts to block it from negotiating.
The regulator said Fortescue's contract with the WA government meant it was obligated, as a rail infrastructure owner, to provide reasonable access to third parties.
Fortescue built its own line in 2007 when it was starting out and could not access BHP Billiton (BHP) and Rio Tinto's (RIO) railway lines.
"Fortescue is a strong proponent of third party access to infrastructure and is the only company to have provided junior miners access to its Pilbara rail and port infrastructure, having shipped in excess of 11 million tonnes of iron ore for third parties," the company.
However, Fortescue argued it would not have to automatically start dealing with Brockman despite the ruling.
The company said it did not believe Brockman had the financial resources to make its Marillana project viable, a condition of the state's railway access code.
"Fortescue cannot be expected to subsidise third party projects that are uneconomic," it said.
Brockman's Pilbara iron ore project Marillana has proven resources but, like other junior miners, a major stumbling block is how to move it to port.
Building its own rail lines is one option but likely will be considered too expensive.
Fortescue is trying to sell a $3 billion stake in its port and rail infrastructure to pay down debt, which smaller producers such as Brockman could invest in.