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Eyre Peninsula: Grain Transport Off the Rails

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Nick G.           28 May 2019

Over a century’s worth of history will come to a close on May 31 when transportation of grain by rail ceases on Eyre Peninsula.

The move will require around 30,000 extra B-double truck movements per year along poorly maintained single lane “highways” that converge on the export silos at the deep-water harbor of Pt Lincoln.

The town of Cummins, 67km north of Pt Lincoln is where lines from Kimba (245km from Lincoln) and Wudinna (216km from Lincoln) meet.

"It's a tragedy losing our history, but all those extra trucks on the roads are going to be a nightmare," said Cummins resident Claire Holman.

Her views were echoed by Cummins farmer Michael Treloar: "The speed limit needs to reviewed — you get stuck behind a triple truck carrying 70 tonnes that can only go 100 kilometres an hour, and we technically can go 110, but you need a long stretch to pass that safely and respect the speed limit — I see serious issues there."

Multinationals out of touch with regional communities

Eyre Peninsula communities, like many regional communities across the country, have been sold down the drain by various forms of privatisation. 

In the late 1990s, the Australian Wheat Board and the Australian Barley Board were privatised becoming AWB Ltd and ABB Grain Ltd respectively. In 2009, ABB Grain was taken over by Canada’s largest grain handler Viterra which in turn was taken over in 2013 by British-Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining corporation Glencore.  Viterra still operates under its own name.

The narrow-gauge rail line to Cummins was opened in 1907.  It was once the largest employer in the region, with over 600 workers in the 1950s and 1960s. In November 1997, US rail company Genesee & Wyoming (GWA) bought the SA rail freight operations of the Government-owned Australian National and after a bit of mucking around with Wesfarmers, rebranded the operation under its own name. There are now only 35 full-time employees, all of whom will lose their jobs.

In recent years, Viterra has been the only customer/user of the GWA line.  The two could not agree on terms for an extension of their contract.  GWA cited decreased grain volumes on rail together with high maintenance costs, while Viterra cited the need to offer grain growers a more competitive supply chain.  What this simply means is that the dreaded “invisible hand of the market” is going to become highly visible as B-doubles crowd out other road users, and roadside marker pegs carrying black crosses indicate where members of the community and truck drivers have lost their lives.

Rail enthusiast Mark Carter summarised the situation in the rail magazine Catch Point: “All major stakeholders, including the state government are seemingly disinterested in the real impacts of the closure, with the final decisions made in the boardrooms of the USA and Switzerland, far removed from the Eyre Peninsula”.

Regional communities should be making regional decisions, supported by  an independent Australian government run by the real producers of wealth, the working class.


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