Closing rail does not make sense
It was encouraging on last Monday evening to see Port Lincoln City Council resolve to continue lobbying the transport minister regarding the likely closure of grain haulage by rail on Eyre Peninsula.
I do however fear that it may be too little, too late.
The traffic impacts in Port Lincoln and along the Tod Highway of a rail closure are significant, requiring 30,000 truck movements each year in addition to the existing truck traffic.
But we must not forget that dozens of local families will also have their lives disrupted, as all railway employees on the lower Peninsula will either have to relocate, or lose their jobs.
The council is asking for a transition period of three years, to allow for a managed transition of the shutdown and giving time to make any necessary adjustments to the road network.
This makes sense, but I fear that it is a forlorn hope.
The government, Viterra and GWA conducted a study early last year to consider options, but despite promises that the results would be made available, no report has been released.
The cynic in me suggests that the results of the study were not in favour of a rail shutdown, so the report is being withheld until it is too late to avoid such a shutdown.
I hope I am wrong, but the silence from DPTI and the minister leave it open to speculation.
It seems to me that we are now facing rail closure on May 31, and the only thing that could change that is government intervention in the form of a small financial contribution to keep rail running (perhaps for three years) until a proper long term strategy can be implemented.
Unfortunately this seems unlikely, so May 31 is looming ominously.
This is not an unprecedented situation.
In August 2015 trains stopped running on the Pinnaroo and Loxton lines in the Murray Mallee.
Just as we have here today, Viterra and GWA could not come to an agreement on a contract.
And in 2015 the government sat back and did nothing.
Ask the locals what they think of the condition of the roads over there now after three years of no rail!
That impact on the roads is despite the fact that the tonnage of grain railed from those areas was considerably lower than rail is bringing in to Port Lincoln.
It has been suggested that with three proposals for alternative grain ports on Eastern Eyre Peninsula, the volume of grain coming through Port Lincoln in future will be reduced.
Long term this may be true, but realistically it will be three or more years at least before any very significant diversion of grain takes place.
There is no guarantee that either of the two Tumby Bay-Port Neill proposals will come to fruition (remember the ‘certainty’ that was Centrex?), and the barge transload at Lucky Bay is unlikely to attract much volume from the flow which comes through Cummins.
Surely it makes no sense to allow rail to close now, just because it may not be justified in a few years?
Rail closure short sighted
I am very concerned that the future of the EP rail system seems to be in jeopardy and that there seems to be serious suggestions that road transport is a reasonable alternative.
This seems very short sighted.
How long will the roads hold up under that scenario before they will need major (and costly) upgrades – and how will their ongoing maintenance be managed?
The rail up the centre was constructed when the EP was being developed and was, originally, how most of the freight (and passengers) were transported to and fro.
I remember the steam trains operating in the 50’s and the construction of the grain silos that naturally were sited close to the railway lines so that rail trucks could be readily loaded.
It seems to me that, as with many of our old public utilities, the SAR also found itself privately owned and has been allowed to decay to the point where we hear this talk about walking away from it.
Upgrade it. Make it standard gauge, with new rolling stock and engines.
Increase the freight tonnes transported by rail and get trucks (and especially road trains) off EP roads.
Take it through to Whyalla and link it with whatever other rail lines are planned with the new deep sea ports and mining operations on the peninsula.
We need more employment and we need to be much more visionary than dumbly accepting more trucks on our (already over-stressed) roads.
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