Regional councils are fed up with the damage heavy trucks are inflicting on their roads, and they’re pointing the finger at the grain and mining industries. They claim a lack of investment in branch rail lines means more freight is travelling by road, leaving councils to foot the bill for road repairs.
At GrainCorp’s terminal at Port Kembla in NSW, 90 per cent of the grain arrives by rail, but that still leaves 10 per cent on heavy trucks through Wollongong’s suburbs.
“You only have to look at the roads and the M1, the standard of the roads buckling because of the trucks; the B-Doubles and B-triples. This is crazy stuff, these should be on rail,” said the Lord Mayor of Wollongong, Gordon Bradbury.
This coastal mayor is an ally of the central NSW councils like Cowra, who are developing a public/private partnership project to restore a 220-kilometre freight rail line.
A restored inland track would link with another rail line to the coast, taking heavy freight away from the Blue Mountains and the South Coast commuter train network.
It will cost anywhere up to $250 million, and four companies have expressed interest in building it.
“The south coast rail line is a classic example where we’re on a very fragile bit of escarpment. It’s geotechnically very vulnerable and there’s mining underneath it.
“That’s why the Maldon Dumbarton line needs to progress linking us and bypassing the metropolitan area, and bringing freight down through the Blue Mountains around the back of Sydney and down the Maldon Dumbarton line.”
Instead of investing in rail networks, the NSW Government has just lifted the tonnage grain trucks can take this harvest, which shire councils say is causing roads and bridges to crumble.
In the southern Riverina, the mayor at Lockhart, Peter Yates, who’s also a grain grower, sees both sides of the debate.
“The weight of trucks is a big issue affects pavements, culverts and bridges. I believe it’s imperative grain should go on rail, to ports of Port Kembla or Port of Brisbane.”
“There’s no investment (in freight rail) from State or Federal Governments at this stage.”
Rail infrastructure nationally is a tale of neglect, according to Brian Nye of the rail lobby group, partly because money has been diverted to passenger trains in capital cities, especially Sydney and Perth.
“The challenge in regional rail links is many have had no repairs in over 10 years, because there has not been the pressure for them to be used, so a lot aren’t viable currently.
“The average freight train takes 110 trucks off the roads, so by reducing movements it reduces wear and tear on local roads, and local councils copping the bill, and get nothing back from trucking companies.”
In Western Australia, grain growers are fighting to get money invested in the freight lines.
Kevin Jones, grain farmer in WA’s central wheat belt, says they’ve been trying to maintain 700 kilometres of rail line for four years.
The Tier Three rail lines may cease to operate by 2014, unless a solution can be worked out between Brookfield, CBH and the State Government.”
But Queensland is a developing story, where the State Government has boosted rail investment by $50 million recently. And a private agribusiness investor Chris Hood, is working on an inland rail port or hub at Hendon on the edge of the Great Dividing Range.
“The mind boggles as to what the potential is, I suppose.
“The beauty of the south western line is it straddles the Queensland NSW border. It opens up opportunity to send grain, cotton through the Queensland system, even from northern NSW, road freighted to the border of Queensland, and then rail freighted to the Port of Brisbane, through the Hendon Inland Port.”
Grains analyst Ron Storey agrees there needs to be a national discussion, but he says it’s complex.
He says a major increase in grain exports to 20 million tonnes to many different export destinations, with most by container, makes road transport more efficient.
In particular, Mr Storey says this year on the east coast there will be a lot of movement of grain north and south, because of a deficit in Queensland.
“That’s probably not going to go on rail.”
For the original version. click here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-25/rail-spending-failing/5045842