AUSTRALIA: Unequal treatment of road and rail was a major factor behind the decision to suspend services on the 1 067 mm gauge network in South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, according to operator Genesee & Wyoming Australia. The 700 km network was mothballed at the end of May after GWA’s only customer switched its traffic from rail to road.

Grain handling specialist Viterra had announced on February 26 that it would ‘transition to road transport’ from June 1 for the movement of all grain to the export terminal at Port Lincoln ‘to ensure the company continues to provide growers and exporters with a competitive supply chain’.

Viterra insisted that it had ‘spent a significant amount of time working with GWA’ to assess options for continuing rail haulage, having twice extended its three-year agreement signed in 2015. However, ‘the condition of the rail infrastructure, the restrictions it placed on operations, and ultimately the cost have all contributed to rail no longer being efficient or cost effective’.

Responding on July 26 to ‘considerable public, political and media discussion’ about the switch, GWA rejected Viterra’s assertion about the state of its network. Noting that many lines had been in poor condition when GWA took over the South Australia regional network in 1997, the company said it had ‘spent a very large sum, totalling tens of millions of dollars, upgrading and maintaining the regional rail routes’. Furthermore, ‘the greatest amount of GWA’s rail expenditure in regional SA has been on the Eyre Peninsula rail system’.

However, the regional network ‘has come under constant competition from trucking’ over many years, and the payload of heavy lorries ‘has been allowed to increase significantly’. Unlike rail, GWA argued, ‘the cost of operating trucks does not reflect the full cost of maintaining the road network’. In addition, ‘considerable uncertainty has been created recently, with numerous Eyre Peninsula port options under development. This has fuelled the inability to attract long-term support for local rail.’

Insisting that ‘the lines are not closed’, GWA said it ‘would like nothing more than to have the Eyre Peninsula rail network attract fresh, economically-viable traffic’. However, ‘the rail network is dependent on external patronage’, and ‘in the absence of any sufficient and sustainable commercial traffic’, any further ‘sizeable’ investment in the network, ‘would not be commercially viable’. Nevertheless, GWA remained ‘in regular communication’ with the state government over the issue.