Representatives of BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group clashed at an iron ore conference in Perth today over the vexed question of access to the Pilbara iron ore rail network.In a strident defence of BHPB's position to continue to keep the network to itself, BHPB iron ore and carbon steel materials president Graeme Hunt also had a shot at the state government, just minutes after state development minister Alan Carpenter had finished addressing the opening day of the Asia Pacific Iron Ore conference.Mr Hunt referred to a point made by Mr Carpenter about the state government's "rational" approach to its policy."I would never argue against rationality but I would say that what is going on at the moment is far from that," Mr Hunt said."The (Pilbara) rail system is not a rail network it is part of an integrated production system."He said the National Competition Council had found that part of the rail system was not, "which is a little bit hard for me to understand and I don't believe it is particularly rational"."At the end of the day, that will be decided by the Federal court after a lot of money has been spent," Mr Hunt said."The simple view about open access to the rail system, while forgetting about the other upstream and downstream issues, is utter irrational nonsense."What tends to get lost in this argument is the difference between an open network and some kind of commercial rail freight agreement. That is about opening up a rail system to allow people to run their own trains on the network."This is a bit like someone deciding someone else has the right to live in your spare bedroom and then the debate is about how much rent they have to pay."The other major problem is we don't actually get our trains to run on schedule.
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