The Lower Eyre Peninsula’s state member of parliament and council chief executive want grain to continue being transported by rail.
Member for Flinders Peter Treloar wants a rail-based freight system for grain to remain, as trains offered competition in the freight transport market, alleviated stress on the region’s roads and helped reduce congestion in Port Lincoln’s shopping precinct.
He farmed in the Cummins district for more than 30 years before he entered politics, and said the rail system was an important asset.
He said about 1 million tonnes of the 3mt of grain cropped annually on the Eyre Peninsula was transported by rail to Port Lincoln for export, and these numbers were increasing.
“With modern farming systems and a run of good seasons, we have been growing more and more grain,” he said.
Mr Treloar is concerned the state of the highways might not be able to handle the extra load and is “anxious” there might not be any money spent on them to make the roads suitable.
“There would be an extra 1mt transferred immediately to road,” he said.
“We would need funds spent on the roads to help handle the extra traffic, but we already have a rail service that perhaps with a little attention, could stay commercially viable and up to standard.”
Mr Treloar said in the mid-2000s, $40m was spent on the local road and rail network, particularly on crossings and tracks.
The money came from federal and state governments, the rail operator, the bulk handler and EP growers, who contributed $2m to the project via a levy.
Mr Treloar said load limits and speed restrictions had been placed on the EP track because of its ailing condition.
“It impacts the efficiency of the line,” he said.
“The line will need investment if it is to be a cost-effective and efficient service.”
Mr Treloar said rail and road methods were secure and able to ensure the quality of grain remained during transportation.
He said canola and legumes were more likely to be moved by road, but wheat and barley were suited to rail.
Mr Treloar said a truck or wagon’s integrity was important to ensure no grain was lost during transport.
Mr Treloar said part of the problem was the train line’s design – a 1.06-metre narrow gauge which is separated from the national system.
In turn, there are added cost pressures from the line being a segregated and unique system that is used for few and specific tasks.
Mr Treloar has had conversations with state transport minister Stephen Mullighan, rail operator Genesee & Wyoming Australia and major customer Viterra about his concerns.
Mr Treloar said an investment between Viterra, GWA, and state and federal governments could be a solution.
District Council of Lower Eyre Peninsula chief executive officer Rod Pearson said during 2016-17, 1mt of grain was produced on southern EP, which had a farmgate value of $200m.
He said the grain industry had 693 full-time equivalent jobs in 2014-15 – the latest data he had available.
“The grain industry is very much the lifeblood of rural EP, and being able to manage the grain freight task efficiently and safely is essential,” he said.
Mr Pearson said each train carried about 2000t of grain.
“Typically in this season at least one train a day is operating between Cummins and Port Lincoln, and some days additional trains are deployed on this route,” he said.
The council has written to the SA Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure advising that deterioration of roads and road safety from the grain freight task is a serious issue.
“Council has sought commitment from DPTI that their negotiations with both Viterra and GWA will look at the long-term solutions, and not focus simply on the short-term cost of transporting grain by rail as against road,” he said.