IT may not be the end of the line for western Queensland when it comes to cattle freight.
South-western regional mayors have been in discussions with the Transport Department and several government ministers regarding the lack of livestock trains and say the situation is looking up.
- South West Regional Economic Development (RED) spokeswoman Clare Mildren said she was confident their members' concerns were being heard and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad was sympathetic to the need for better freight solutions for regional Queensland. Last month, the group raised concerns Aurizon was paid by the state government to provide 325 livestock rails services throughout regional Queensland but not delivering.
The contract, which expires at the end of the year, allows cattle to be delivered to just two meat processors and the call is to allow other businesses to be included. Oakey Beef Exports is one. "Oakey Beef has been discussing the issue for years, they now have a seat at the table because their expansion project has the support of the south-west councils and the ear of the government," Ms Mildren said. "The fact is, we are being heard by the current government now they understand our issues in more detail."
- Oakey Beef Export general manager Pat Gleeson said he had been invited to several meetings and the company was finalising a business case to government standards.
They were near a solution and the Deputy Premier had phoned him this week for a meeting. "We have a long way to go, but we are edging towards positive outcomes and this will be great for beef growers of Queensland and jobs for Queensland."
- Quilpie Shire Councillor and local Grant Daniel Long manager Tony Lilburne knows the situation well.
He can stand at the end of the line. "Really, the government of the day has two choices - invest heavily in the road or look at the long-term viability of the rail network."
- The sentiment was echoed by JBS Australia's John Berry, who said the company had been a long-time user of rail and invested heavily in infrastructure to support this. "It was a case of "use it or lose it," he said.
"Under current arrangements, our view is that there is capacity to move more cattle by rail and I believe that by utilising full trains in long haul point-to-point service, we see there is an opportunity based on that capacity for pricing to be more competitive," Mr Berry said.
"We need to work with Aurizon as the service provider to have flexibility in a way that those cars and services operate to meeting changing seasonal conditions, but at the same time we need to ensure we have loading points that have the capacity to fill trains."
Mr Berry said he did not want to see the system return to the model where a train would be filled from several loading points for the one service. "We need to have strategic loading points across the state where we can then fill the train to capacity."
It was about investment and a great opportunity for other businesses to utilise the rail service.
"Potentially, there is a risk not to have the service. We can grow this rail service and there is an opportunity to do this with livestock suppliers and Aurizon."
Momentum to reinvigorate the rail system is growing in the north.
- Representatives from Mackay-based meat processor Borthwicks presented to a Mount Isa to Townsville Economic Development Zone meeting on Monday. "We received strong support from all the councils along the rail line - Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Flinders, McKinlay, Richmond, Charters Towers and Townsville," a company spokesperson said.
- Queensland Rail also presented and had a graph showing the capacity for about 10 cattle trains a week from Cloncurry. The spokesperson said the siding at Mackay was "okay" and with minor maintenance could accept 15 wagons at time, although there would be some cost in shunting. "I am sure the taxpayer would rather the train stop in Mackay than pay for it to run another 1000km to Brisbane."
AURIZON UNDER ATTACK MP SAYS COMPANY ACTING UNFAIRLY
AURIZON has been accused of making its livestock service unviable to the detriment of key western Queensland industries. Member for Gregory Lachlan Millar said Aurizon had the privilege of monopoly and he believed it was acting unfairly. “I understand that when this contract commenced, rail freight dominated the western freight task in particular,” Mr Millar said. “I estimate this has fallen from near 100 per cent to less than 10pc and this has had a serious impact on the communities and industries of the west.” The state government pays Aurizon to provide 325 livestock rail services a year to only two meat processors under a contract set up by the Bligh government. The contract expires at the end of this year; last month regional mayors in the south-west raised concerns the carrier was not delivering and other potential users were being left out in the cold.
Quilpie has had three services in less than three years, and it is understood Longreach has not had a service since December. Aurizon has rejected this and said it was working with industry to create more livestock demand for south-west rail services, and it continued to meet its commitments.
“There are 325 services available across Queensland per annum, however the number ... is largely dependent on demand from customers, a spokesman said. “There is a highly competitive livestock transport market in Queensland involving both road and rail-based services.”