Meeting to look at options for Eyre Peninsula rail

HISTORY: Peter Knife points to a display showing dates of rail services winding up across Eyre Peninsula. Photo: Jarrad Delaney
HISTORY: Peter Knife points to a display showing dates of rail services winding up across Eyre Peninsula. Photo: Jarrad Delaney

A meeting will take place this Sunday in Port Lincoln with organisers hoping it will be the first step towards the return of rail on the Eyre Peninsula.

South Australian Transport Action Group Inc has organised a meeting at the Nautilus Arts Centre at 2pm this Sunday which will discuss solutions to get the region's freight back onto rail.

Rail services on Eyre Peninsula officially ended on May 31, 2019 when Genesee and Wyoming Australia (now One Rail Australia) and Viterra failed to reach an agreement to renew a rail grain haulage agreement.

Action group chairperson John Hill said ideally they would like to see the Eyre Peninsula network connected to the national network, which in turn would see it shared between freight and passenger services.

He said significant moments which affected the future of the state's rail was first the SA Railways coming into the federal fold through Australian National, which was privatised in 1997 with intrastate services to Genesee and Wyoming Australia.

"Out of the 13 lines sold to Genesee and Wyoming Australia, now One Rail, only one of the 13 is operating, the line from Penong to Thevenard for gypsum," he said.

Mr Hill said the loss of rail had put pressure on the region's roads with the increase in truck traffic and there was still so much potential for rail within the region.

He said examples such as the Esperance line in Western Australia showed rail could continue to be a viable option for transporting grain.

"In WA, when you look at Esperance or something like that, trucks are carrying 84 tonnes and trains are still competing with them," he said.

The action group has been active in advocating for rail services across the state, which included public ,meetings to advocate for a service for better passenger rail and freight options for the Adelaide Hills.

As well as the need for freight to return, there would also be a discussion on passenger services which would necessitate the network connecting to the national network and further improve links to the region, which would require a change of rail gauge.

Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society president Peter Knife will chair the meeting and said rail was what built the communities through the middle of the peninsula and the decline of many being a flow-on from the winding down and cessation of rail.

He said while it would be great to see grain haulage return to rail, it was a slim chance of happening and passenger services and connection to the national network seemed unlikely.

"The South Australian government over many years discussed connecting the Eyre Peninsula network to the rest of the state and never found it to be economically justified," he said.

Mr Knife said Eyre Peninsula's rail line was narrow gauge built to lighter haulage standards, but the fact Queensland had 10,000 tonne coal trains running on the same sort of gauge meant it was not impossible to be fit for purpose.

But Mr Hill was optimistic that significant investment in a rail network was possible, citing how the group showed it was cheaper to establish an improved passenger line to the Adelaide Hills.

"The government say it would cost $12 billion to put passenger rail into the Adelaide Hills, but we've shown they can do it for $120 million," he said.

"To put new rail into Eyre Peninsula, it wouldn't cost more than the new basketball stadium they're building."