The delivery of a 20-wagon trainload of cattle from the new Morven Freight Hub to Oakey Beef last week has been hailed as an exciting new development in the freight logistics scene in Queensland.
It was the first of what is expected will be regular consignments of cattle from throughout western Queensland to processors in the state's east.
Rail service company Watco East West has been contracted by the Queensland government to operate cattle train services in south west Queensland, and is also the operator of the new freight hub as part of an agreement with the Murweh Shire Council.
Watco Australia, a subsidiary of Kansas-based Watco Companies, was established in 2010 to haul grain in the south of Western Australia, and in 2019 acquired the contract previously held by Aurizon to undertake grain haulage in Queensland.
Watco East West purchased a fleet of KOJX wagons from the state government last year and refurbished them at their maintenance facility at Warwick.
Murweh Shire Mayor Shaun "Zoro" Radnedge said while it had taken a bit of time to get to the point of receiving and sending cattle, his council was "absolutely stoked with how Morven was growing to be the best livestock freight hub in the country".
Noting that it had sprung from the vision of the collective south west councils, which local federal MP David Littleproud had swung in behind to secure funding, Cr Radnedge said the vision had become reality.
"Without the extra financial support from state Transport Minister Mark Bailey and director-general Neil Scales, this would not be happening," he said. "The reality is, they listened to us."
He added that his council was excited to see a new company enter the cattle freight logistics scene in Queensland.
According to Watco East West director Chris Hood, there had been significant interest from big pastoral companies and processors alike in taking advantage of the rejuvenated service.
He said the hub represented a new opportunity for both producers and processors to relook at the logistics of moving cattle not only in the south west but also from the central and north west.
"The thing that Morven has got going for it is that it's at the junction of two major highways - the Landsborough and Warrego Highways - that carry an enormous volume of cattle destined for feedlot and processing sectors in Queensland's south east," he said.
Liveweight scales are expected to be an attraction for producers from areas that would not normally rail their cattle.
"They can be spelled and rested and importantly, it allows them to be further redirected either on trucks or trains," Mr Hood said.
"Triple road trains can cycle between pastoral properties and Morven, cattle can be spelled, weighed and then up to 1000 head can be railed per train direct to a choice of processors, allowing much improved options for all players in the sector."
Read more: Massive Morven livestock hub moving ahead
Mr Hood said Watco East West was also keen to commence operations servicing the Roma and Dalby saleyards, and said it wasn't just a service for meatworks.
"We can put trains together for producers - each train is equivalent to 45 decks - and we'd like to run one train a week to Christmas if possible," he said.
They were due to send another sizeable trainload of cattle from the Boulia region out this week until rain delayed the delivery.
According to the Railpage website, Oakey and Toowoomba meatworks are off-limits to rail deliveries via the coast, thanks to cattle tick zones.
"In the past cattle that had travelled by rail down the North Coast Line had to be dipped at Helidon, but this practice was discontinued during the 1990s as more cattle were directly delivered by road through the inland tick-free zones," the page says.
"Up to 200,000 cattle per annum are currently moved via the Warrego Highway/Western Line corridors (with most on the Warrego Highway rather than rail).
"By comparison, Aurizon's typical rail task from the north west and central west to Rockhampton and Brisbane is around 300,000 cattle per annum."
Call to get behind new service
Murweh mayor Shaun Radnedge that what was needed now was for people to get behind the new company to let them show Queensland how the future for cattle on trains was bright.
"Watco East West have the experience and the enthusiasm to make great things happen for the end cattle producer and anything that supports the producer is valuable to this area."
Mr Hood said it was clear from talking to all sectors of the industry, including the trucking industry, that a more coordinated approach was required from all parties in order to make the large scale movements of cattle on rail a success.
"We have spoken to the Meat & Livestock Association about recommending our cattle train trials as it is clear the market still likes the option of trains," he said.
"Operating the trains and the Morven Freight Hub together allows us to ensure maximum efficiency by having very clear communication between producers and the trucking companies.
"We have the trains and the yards and we are determined to make these trains run.
"We want to change the rail scene in western Queensland."