Brookfield Infrastructure Group Australia and Qube Holdings have emerged as the frontrunners in the race to build the $200 million Esperance Port expansion, following the State Government's decision to kickstart the process earlier this month.
Industry sources say the two companies, which entered into a memorandum of understanding to pursue the 10 million tonne expansion together in November, have jumped ahead of the pack.
This is despite at least two other key players standing in the way of the consortium's bid. It is understood Asciano - Australia's biggest rail freight and ports operator - and Melbourne-based construction giant McConnell Dowell are bidding for the project.
A further two banks are understood to be interested in financing the project, depending on who the preferred proprietor is. The winning bid is expected to be announced in the September quarter.
Yilgarn Iron Producers Association chief executive David Utting said the State Government's green light had created a much-needed kickstart for the project - a crucial element in opening up the Yilgarn iron ore region.
He said it was now up to the Government to ensure the timetable would be adhered to, in order for the port expansion to be operation by early 2015.
This sentiment was echoed by Cazaly Resources joint managing director Nathan McMahon. Speaking on the sidelines of the RIU Explorers Conference yesterday, Mr McMahon said Cazaly was ready to start its Parker Range iron ore project, but had been forced to sit on its hands.
Mr McMahon said the sooner the Government made its selection, the sooner it could reap the benefits from further iron ore royalties from the Yilgarn region.Other companies ready to benefit from the proposed expansion include Cliffs Natural Resources, Mineral Resources and the further eight members of the Yilgarn Iron Producers Association.