Cattle trains are finally being sighted in greater numbers on the tracks in western Queensland again, after a seven month hiatus while door latch designs on the new metal wagons were modified.
This follows a trial undertaken by the Department of Transport and Main Roads together with Aurizon in mid-May, of a shipment of cattle between Julia Creek and Lakes Creek abattoir at Rockhampton.
While the department wouldn’t respond directly to queries on the outcomes of that trial, a spokesman said the first 30 modified crates were currently being tested, with four trial rail services since May successfully transporting cattle.
“The remaining fleet will be progressively modified and reintroduced to service,” he said.
Aurizon initiated a temporary pause of livestock rail services in September last year, following three incidents where a ramp on a cattle crate unexpectedly released during transit.
No injuries to people or cattle were reported, but the design fault, coming so soon after the new wagons were put into service, caused an uproar at the time, followed by calls by the Member for Gregory, Lachlan Millar, to use central Queensland firms to engineer and manufacture a solution.
The most recent trains have been dispatched to Winton and the town’s mayor, Gavin Baskett, said it was great for employment in the town to have them back.
“Probably half a dozen people load the train – that’s all work for them,” he said.
Without trains available to take cattle to Lakes Creek or Dinmore, Cr Baskett said meat buyers had been less inclined to source cattle from the region, which had been a harmful effect of the temporary service halt.
He was relieved to see the line finally being used again, fearing a prolonged period of inactivity could have resulted in it being taken out of service.
In an ironic twist, while it took seven months for a solution to the defective cattle crates to be found and implemented, it took only five weeks to repair 10km of line close to Winton after flooding in early March removed much of the ballast.
“The line was pretty much floating in parts,” Cr Baskett said. “It was a really good effort by the authorities to get it fixed in such a short time period.”
It was the main mode of transport for 60 shipping containers that brought essential lighting and stage equipment out for the Way out West festival in April, which launched the opening of the new Waltzing Matilda Centre.
The Transport spokesman said no cattle transporting customers had been financially disadvantaged by using rail replacement road services for livestock orders that would normally be transported by rail.
“All orders have been met without delays and with no financial impacts for customers,” he said.
Mr Millar agreed there had been no financial impost for rail users, thanks to the government covering the difference in the price of using road transport, but said the extra cost was being shifted onto taxpayers.
“We’re actually slugging taxpayers across Queensland an extra $20 a head because of this bungled mess,” he said.
“We’re looking at seven or eight months of no cattle on rail.
“If you were a private corporation and you were the CEO, you would be sacked.”