repairs

WA to progress business cases for reopening three Tier 3 grain lines

The Western Australian government has committed to developing three business cases for the reopening of three Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The three lines to be looked at for reopening at, Quairading to York, Kulin via Yilliminning to Narrogin, and Kondining via Narembeen to West Merredin.

The combined cost of upgrading the three lines to narrow gauge standard is $486 million. As part of the investigation the WA government will consider upgrading the Kondinin to West Merredin line to standard gauge at an extra cost of $27.41m.

The three lines were chosen based on an engineering assessment released on September 24 which estimated the cost of reopening Tier 3 lines throughout the wheatbelt.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report found that certain lines could be reopened.

“While the engineering report confirms restoring the entire network would involve significant costs, there are arguably specific lines where the cost of investment could be offset by ongoing commercial and community benefits such as reduced truck volumes on local roads and cost savings to farmers.”

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the WA freight rail network, said it would support the government and grain growers cooperate CBH Group in the submission of business cases to Infrastructure Australia.

“Arc acknowledges that the government has identified an opportunity for the development of business cases to be submitted to Infrastructure Australia, for rail freight investment proposals on the Tier 1, 2 and 3 rail networks. Arc will support government and CBH in this process,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

CBH Group, which represents grain growers throughout the state, said it would also support the efforts to make grain transport economically viable.

“We will work with the state government to progress those business cases, including providing information on any impacts of re-instating those lines on the grain supply chain or grower freight rates,” said a CBH Group spokesperson.

“CBH supports grain transport by rail where it is economically viable and the least cost pathway to port.”

The government announcement was also welcomed by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), with WA secretary Craig McKinley calling on the federal government to support the reopening of these lines.

“The Western Australian government is supportive of the need to rebuild key sections of track, and the commitment to undertaking business cases is very heartening,” he said.

“We hope that the business case stage can be completed quickly, so we can move on to securing funding and getting construction underway.

“The reconstruction of Tier 3 lines is exactly the sort of project that the Australian government should be investing in.”

Saffioti said the business cases will be developed in consultation with CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure before being submitted to Infrastructure Australia for potential federal funding.

“Significant funding contributions from the federal government – as per other major regional infrastructure projects – would be required for any potential Tier 3 restoration work in the future.”

The Tier 3 grain lines were closed by Arc Infrastructure in 2014, then known as Brookfield Rail. The Tier 3 lines were seen at the time as not commercially viable. With the resultant shift of grain volumes to road, road maintenance costs have increased, and safety concerns have been raised by the local community. These factors led to the WA government investigating the viability of reopening the lines earlier in 2020.

WA grain growers to support rail freight

Grain growers cooperative CBH Group has welcomed the Western Australian government’s Revitalising Agricultural Region Freight (RARF) Strategy and committed to work on business cases to fund improvements to rail lines.

The RARF was released on June 29 and outlines a targeted program of upgrades and improvements to WA’s regional freight lines, particularly those that enable grain to be transported from growers to ports.

CBH Group, which provides grain haulage services to its member growers, has been working with the state government and infrastructure manager Arc Infrastructure on the project, said CEO Jimmy Wilson.

“CBH has had the opportunity to give practical and pragmatic input to the development of the strategy, including data on forecast grain production growth and a focus on what will deliver the greatest transfer of grain tonnes from road to rail,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the RARF is “an important and essential step in improving the efficiency of the Western Australian grain supply chain through strategic rail and road investment”.

The RARF named upgrades to rail lines from Perth to Geraldton, Mullewa to Perenjori, Albany to Hyden/Newdegate, and Esperance to Salmon Gums, as priority project packages. CBH is already working on business cases for a new passing loop at Broomehill and rail siding extensions at Brookton, Cranbrook and Moora, which will allow for longer trains to be loaded at those sites.

It is expected that CBH and Arc Infrastructure will lead the improvements, with support from the WA government.

“The low-cost, high benefit projects outlined in the strategy would facilitate the transfer of more grain tonnes off road onto rail, deliver more rapid rail movement from site to port to capture the market window when the Black Sea is least active, as well as improve efficiencies in the road network where rail is not an option,” said Wilson.

In her foreword to the strategy, WA Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti said that she hoped the works would improve efficiency, safety, and productivity in WA’s supply chain, and enable Australian growers to compete in international markets.

The strategy sets the foundation for improvements to WA’s network over the next 10-15 years.

“We look forward to working with the state government on progressing business cases for funding the priority projects identified in the strategy that will support the ongoing international competitiveness of Western Australian grain growers,” said Wilson.

Grain

Bumper winter grain harvest sparks calls for rail upgrades

A forecast record grain crop is leading to calls for improvements to the regional freight network in Victoria.

Advocacy group Rail Futures Institute has identified the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines, the Korong Vale group, as ripe for improvement to shift a bumper winter crop.

“We are urging a fast allocation of funding so that these labour-intensive works can be actioned between July and October of this year so that this important freight link can again be made available to handle the forecast bumper grain harvest from November 2020,” Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences, this year’s winter crop is forecast to reach 7.4 million tonnes, 16 per cent above the ten year average to 2018-2019 and double last year’s crop.

With a limited capacity on freight lines between Dunolly and Ballarat, extra grain may have to be hauled by truck, costing growers.

“In offering a second option for Korong Vale Group grain trains to go south, the number of broad gauge trains proceeding via Dunolly and Maryborough can be reduced, releasing more train paths for standard gauge trains from the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which can only reach Geelong, Portland, or Melbourne via Ararat and so must travel through Maryborough,” said Hearsch.

Rail Futures Institute points out that the 41km of track in need of an update involves replacement of sleepers, repairs to areas damaged by floods in 2007 and 2011 and reactivation of the rail junctions at Inglewood and Eaglehawk. The relatively minor improvements could also be completed using locally sourced materials, said Hearsch.

Other benefits would include the potential extension of regional passenger services from Bendigo to Marong and a connection between Bendigo rollingstock manufacturing and repair workshops and the rail network in north-western Victoria.

The Victorian government is currently finalising an updated businesses case for the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project, which intended to upgrade the Korong Vale group lines. Once complete, the business case will be presented to the federal government for consideration for funding further stages.

Viterra doubles the size of typical rail movement

Michael Hill, Viterra Operations Manager said it’s the first time Viterra has loaded a 100-wagon train to service interstate demand for South Australian grain. 

Viterra has loaded its largest single rail outturn in response to domestic and international demand.

The 100-wagon train loaded with barley from Viterra’s Crystal Brook, Snowtown, and Gladstone sites, is headed for interstate feedlots.

Hill said the interstate service has effectively doubled the size of a typical rail movement, reflecting the fast rate that South Australian grain is moving.

“We have around 40 buyers in the Viterra system purchasing grain for the domestic and export market, and we’ve seen a significant increase in shipping and rail outturns compared to this time last year,” Hill said.

In addition to the 100-wagon train, Viterra has loaded a further six domestic-bound trains during the same week from sites in its central region with wheat, barley, and canola.

“We’re also continuing to service strong export demand, outturning grain by vessels through our port terminals to various international buyers and markets,” Hill said.

All six of Viterra’s port terminals across the state are loading vessels over March and April with wheat, barley, and canola headed to a range of domestic and export markets.

“We are focused on working with buyers to make it as easy as possible for them to continue accessing grain through the Viterra network and getting it to where they need it,” Hill said.

NSW EPA trying to put the brakes on rail freight

Draft changes to NSW environmental standards could end regional branch freight lines, warns an alliance of rail industry leaders.

The joint letter signed by freight operators, farmers, and grain growers, and seen by Rail Express, responds to draft NSW EPA standards for rollingstock emissions and noise.

The draft standards set a noise ceiling of 85 decibels, a similar volume to a lawnmower, which would rule out diesel locomotives of the type used to transport grain from silos to port.

The 48 Class locomotives which service these branch lines have a low axel load of 12.5 tonnes, and are able to run on the older steel track which are restricted to locomotive axle loads of 17 tonnes.

The letter outlines that rather than improving environmental outcomes, the restrictions on noise, if implemented would force grain to be transported by trucks. The authors write that this could lead to an extra 25,000 B-double trucks on a “conservative” estimate. This would generate a 500 per cent increase in CO2 emissions compared with rail freight.

“In short, proposed new EPA environmental standards for diesel locomotives will significantly increase net [greenhouse gas] emissions in regional NSW,” write the authors. “This is a perverse outcome.”

Other costs include increased road accidents and fatalities and job losses of locomotive drivers and seasonal silo workers.

Additionally, by forcing grain onto trucks, the cost of exporting grain would increase, placing pressure on farmers’ margins at a time when drought is impacting upon agricultural profitability.

Emissions standards proposed by the NSW EPA also place a restriction on rail freight. While emissions kits can be installed in diesel locomotives, the cost of installing them would be prohibitive and would increase the consumption of diesel by five per cent, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The weight of these emission kits can also push a locomotive over the axel load threshold.

The signatories to the letter are:

Dean Dalla Valle, Pacific National CEO

Klaus Pamminger, GrainCorp COO

Dick Honan, Manildra Group chairman

Jason Ferguson, Southern Shorthaul Railroad director

Maurice James, Qube Holdings managing director

Matthew Madden, NSW Farmers Association Grains Committee chair

Danny Broad, Australasian Railway Association chair

Geoff Smith, SCT Logistics managing director

Luke Anderson, Genesee & Wyoming Australia CEO

Anthony Jones, LINX Cargo Care Group CEO

Ian Gibbs, CF Asia Pacific / CFCL Australia executive chairman

CBH moves bumper crop by rail

Grain storage, handling, transport, marketing, and processing cooperative, CBH Group has announced that their rail infrastructure moved the largest amount of grain in the company’s history.

8.9 million tonnes of grain was moved by rail to port terminals in the 12 months to September 2019. These figures included six million tonnes of grain from the Kwinana Zone to the Kwinana Grain Terminal for bulk export.

These figures were the result of a record harvest of 16.4m tonnes, 13.8m tonnes of which was shipped from CBH Group’s four grain terminals. 6.2m tonnes were shipped from the Kwinana Grain Terminal.

While these figures were record breaking, global grain market forces left the group with a net loss after tax of $29.7 million and a deficit of $13.3 million.

During the year, CBH invested $285.3m in its network. These funds went towards an expansion of storage capacity, improving supply chain efficiency, and infrastructure maintenance.

CBH Group owns 574 wagons, 26 locomotives, and 12 trains, and in the 2019 year leased two additional locomotives and 131 standard and narrow gauge wagons for parts of the year. Due to the bumper year, three standard gauge fleets and nine narrow gauge fleets moved the grain crop.

Viterra receives 115,000 tonnes in two weeks

The 2019/20 harvest season has seen Viterra, the grain storage and handling network for South Australia and western Victoria, receiving just over 3.9 million tonnes for the harvest so far this season.

Within the last two weeks Viterra received 115,000 tonnes of wheat, barley and canola.

In those two weeks, the grain handler’s outturn schedule continued with five trains loaded with wheat, barley and canola from Gladstone, Snowtown and Bowmans.

“Although receivals have slowed across the state, Viterra is continuing to provide delivery options for growers,” a spokesperson said.

Most of the grain received in the past two weeks was delivered into Viterra’s Eastern region sites, with 36 sites receiving the grain between 25 December and 5 January according to Viterra’s first monthly receivals report.

Viterra’s total storage capacity is around 10 million tonnes which they store in facilities servicing 5000 growers and supplying directly to around 40 buyers through the Viterra supply chain.

Viterra provides: storage and warehousing, receival and elevation, quality assessment, logistics and accumulation, quality control and food safety, electronic transactional services, container packing and bulk ship loading.

The main commodities grown in the area include wheat, barley, canola, lentils, faba beans, field peas and lupins, which the handler then segregates depending on the variety, grade and quality specifications of their individual loads to better match the needs of buyers.

John Holland. Photo John Holland

John Holland partners with Strukton for new CRN bid

John Holland has announced a partnership with global track maintenance firm Strukton Rail to bid on the next operations and maintenance deal for the New South Wales Country Regional Network (CRN).

John Holland has operated and maintained the CRN under a ten-year state government contract since 2012. With that contract due to end in June 2021, Transport for NSW commenced a market sounding process for the next contract in May 2019.

With a long list of good work done since 2012, John Holland’s executive general manager for Rail, Steve Butcher, said a partnership with Strukton will help do an even better job if it is awarded the work over the next decade.

“We have a decade-long record of ensuring passengers and freight can move around regional NSW safely and reliably, and now we want to take this to the next level,” Butcher said.

“We want to drive innovation on the network in order to boost regional economies. This partnership will help us to better connect our regions with global leading-edge technology.”

Butcher noted in its decade operating and maintaining the CRN, John Holland has helped cut lost time due to speed restrictions by 50 per cent on passenger and grain lines. During its first three years running the network, John Holland managed to remove 99 of 103 temporary restrictions.

The firm has also replaced more than 1.5 million sleepers along the network, resurfaced more than 7,000 kilometres of track, and upgraded 155 level crossings.

The CRN comprises 2,386 route kilometres of operational passenger and freight rail lines and 3,139 route kilometres of non-operational lines, as well as 27,000 hectares of land and infrastructure.

In all the network includes 1,312 level crossings, 300 of which are active. It has 1,200 property assets, including 356 heritage assets. There are 600 rail under-bridges and 384 road over-bridges to be maintained.

 


NSW regional rail map with CRN shown.