Days after the latest attack in Parliament by the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, on the amount of time the government was taking to rectify faults with livestock railway wagons, a trial of the first modified crates is underway.
The Department of Transport and Main Roads and Aurizon is operating a service from Julia Creek to Lakes Creek in Rockhampton, saying the remaining fleet will be progressively modified and reintroduced to service.
Aurizon purchased 321 Chinese-made cattle crates in 2016, on behalf of the Queensland government, and they were introduced progressively in 2017, but in October last year they were withdrawn from service after safety issues were identified.
The locking mechanism on the cattle crates was the main problem to be dealt with.
The Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, described it as a “monumental stuff-up” at the time and has been critical of the government’s handling of the issue in the seven months since.
In Parliament on Tuesday he again asked Transport Minister, Mark Bailey, to explain why Queensland producers were having to live through the “bush rail fail”, saying they were yet to get a clear answer.
“The Labor Party is once again missing in action on another issue critical to our agricultural industries,” he said. “Central Queensland businesses offered to fix this mess months ago but the city-centric Labor government only sent the crates to Townsville and Brisbane for repairs.”
On Tuesday, Mr Bailey told Parliament the issue would be resolved “quite soon”.
“There’s been a redesign and a range of standards that need to be required,” he said.
“We are the only state that does subsidise and provide regional rail for the beef sector.
“This matter is being resolved but it does need to meet all the standards and we expect that to be done quite soon.”
His reference to subsidising cattle rail freight was in response to Opposition concerns that cattle producers were incurring costs of up to $20 a head extra to use road transport to get their cattle to sale.
According to a TMR spokeswoman, rail-replacement road services were being used for livestock orders being received during the contracted 2018 season.
“As previously stated, this will have no financial impact on customers,” she said.
Cost to taxpayers
As one of the users impacted by the lengthy delay, Clermont’s Peter Anderson, while saying he expected to eventually be reimbursed, said he hadn’t yet seen any money, after paying his carrier up front.
While the government spokesman said replacement road services would continue to supplement the progressive roll-out of the modified cattle crates, at no additional cost to customers, Mr Anderson said it would be at a cost to taxpayers.
“Dozens of Clermont producers have been affected,” he said. “Probably 1800 head a week, or up to 80,000 head a year – that’s an extra $1.6m extra that it’s costing someone.”
Having an extra 25 to 30 road trains running each week to Dinmore was placing extra pressure on roads, and Peter believed the Isaac Regional Council was missing out on the fee, estimated at $2500 a week, for cattle to go through the local yards, when they were being trucked directly from properties.
“It’s frustrating that it took so long to have the catches on the locking mechanisms modified,” he said. “Private enterprise would have done it long ago because they would have been worried about capital sitting about idle.”
Peter said he’d made a few stock crates in his day and he reckoned he could have come up with a fix months ago.
The TMR spokeswoman said industry had been consulted about the current modifications in early February, with feedback informing the final design.
“The modification works involve enhancing the crates’ locking mechanism, as well as introducing viewing inspection panels, in response to industry feedback,” she said. “The manufacturer has developed the modification program and is utilising resources and capability at existing depots in Brisbane and Townsville.”
As to how the trial would be determined a success, and when the rest of the livestock wagons would be back in service, it was a case of “watch this space”, the spokesman said.