LIVES could be at risk this coming harvest if urgent roadworks are not undertaken on the Eyre Peninsula, according to opposition primary industries and regional development spokesperson Eddie Hughes.
Mr Hughes' warning comes as the long-awaited EP Freight Study was finally released publicly last week, more than six months after being delivered to Transport Minister Stephan Knoll.
The study, commissioned by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure and EP rail owner Genesee & Wyoming Australia in December 2017, reviewed the region's freight needs and where investment was needed.
The government had the study when Viterra, the sole user of EP rail, decided to not renew its rail contract with GWA in February.
This is despite the study recommending that a freight strategy incorporating rail would provide the "optimal, sustainable, long-term option" for the region, rather than road transport of grain.
It also recognised it was unlikely GWA would undertake capital upgrades without Viterra committing to an ongoing contract, and equally Viterra would not commit to a contract until rail upgrades were made.
It then also recommended that road upgrades, costing up to $90 million, would be needed before rail operations ceased to exist.
RELATED READING:Govt releases EP Freight Study
Last week, Mr Knoll said the government "delivered on its commitment" to release the study, after having secured $100m in federal budget funding to upgrade the Port Augusta to Perth corridor, with $25.6m allocated to Lower EP roads.
While overseas and unable to answer Stock Journal's questions, Mr Knoll attributed changes to the way grain was transported across the EP, including the new port at Lucky Bay and proposed ports for Cape Hardy, Port Spencer and Decres Bay, for the new focus on road maintenance.
"All of these ports and proposals for future grain ports will further reduce future rail freight volumes, making the rail network even more unviable," he said in a statement.
"That's why the Marshall Government moved swiftly to successfully negotiate a $100m road funding package for the EP region. This will ensure the road network is able to cater for the additional road freight movements we will see as a result of GWA and Viterra's decision to no longer utilise the rail network."
RELATED READING: Freight study results remain a mystery
The EP will take on an extra 30,000 truck movements because of the move to road freight - that's a dangerous increase.
Believing the report was made available to the government in September, Mr Hughes "strongly hoped" there were plans already in place to upgrade the road network on the EP before the harvest.
"Otherwise people's lives are going to be at risk," he said.
"The EP will take on an extra 30,000 truck movements because of the move to road freight - that's a dangerous increase.
"The state government need to come to the party with funding, because the $25.6m will not be enough.
"The state government should also offer a short-term subsidy for rail stakeholders until they got the road network up to scratch.
"But I have seen no commitment by the government to spend money on getting the rail system back to where it should be and it seems fairly clear that GWA do not want to spend the money either."
GWA said the large investment required to upgrade the rail network was "commercially not viable".
"But GWA is open to talking to any parties that have a sustainable project for the rail corridor," a company spokesperson said.
The SA Freight Council was disappointed the state government, GWA and Viterra could not find an option that would keep EP grain on rail, but executive officer Evan Knapp understood the economics "didn't stack up".
He welcomed the $25.6m in road funding, but was unsure how quickly the money would be deployed.
"The majority of the federal money appears to be outside the budget estimates period of four years," he said.
"This will likely mean several harvests will go by with an additional 30,000 truck trips each year on EP roads without the majority of safety or related capacity upgrades being deployed.
"SAFC would have preferred to see the rail kept open until upgrades could be implemented, reducing the risk for Lower EP residents and tourists."
RELATED READING: EP road funding "barely enough": Centre Alliance
Why are we abandoning rail when the rest of the country is embracing it?
SA-BEST Transport and Infrastructure spokesperson Frank Pangallo also raised concerns about the increase in truck movements, with heavy vehicles responsible for about 20 per cent of all road fatalities on the EP.
"With the rail network being shut down, more heavy vehicles will be forced onto roads which haven't been designed or maintained to take the significant increase in traffic and/or are also falling apart," he said.
"The report reveals that the plan to shift grain transport from rail to solely road is the worst of all outcomes.
"Why are we abandoning rail when the rest of the country is embracing it?
"It's a recipe for disaster."
Viterra said it had spent a "significant amount of time" working with GWA on options to continue using the rail network.
"Viterra made the decision to transition to use only road transport for moving grain on Eyre Peninsula to ensure that we continue to provide an efficient and cost effective service," the company said.
RELATED READING: Grain infrastructure blueprint needed: GPSA
Grain Producers SA continued its call for a state-wide infrastructure blueprint for the grain industry "to enable long-term planning and better targeted government funding".
"While we believe it is critical both growers and government understand the impact of the potential closure of rail services and the capacity to manage additional road movements in the future, long-term infrastructure planning must extend to the entire state," GPSA chief executive officer Caroline Rhodes said.