KAP blames northern cattle train shutdown on govt privatisation

Sally Gall
By Sally Gall
Updated April 4 2022 - 11:48pm, first published 7:00am
Northern cattle trains not off the rails: Bailey

The Queensland government has played down claims of mismanagement of the state's cattle rail contracts by Katter's Australian Party, which was responding to concerns over recent shutdowns on the north west line.

While KAP leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter put the blame for the lack of available cattle trains at the feet of the Labor government's privatisation of the state's rail lines, Transport Minister Mark Bailey said it was largely due to weather disruptions.

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Mr Katter said his office had received a series of complaints from truck drivers, cattle producers and meat processors who have seen cattle freight come to a halt since the livestock haulage contract on the line was awarded to Watco East West in January this year.

Aurizon, which absorbed the operational legacy of the former Queensland Rail, including their cattle yards, had held the contract prior to that.

"The government has thrown the rail freight contract to the control of the free market, which is all well and good, however they have failed to consider the fact that there is only one rail company who owns cattle yards along the line and that company is not the one that won the tender," Mr Katter said.

He said Aurizon had reportedly padlocked its holding yards at Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Hughenden and Stuart, therefore preventing their use by the new carrier.

That was confirmed by Aurizon.

A spokesman said they had been notified in January by the Transport Department they had been unsuccessful in retaining the contract for the livestock services on the north west corridor.

"Aurizon owns rail-related infrastructure including livestock loading facilities and holding yards on this corridor," the spokesman said. "For safety and commercial reasons, we have secured the rail loading ramps that connect to the rail corridor."

Mr Katter said while that was Aurizon's prerogative, it had forced cattle from rail to road, increasing transport costs and road safety hazards.

He said there were predictions that the service could be offline for two years.

"The situation is untenable and the government needs to urgently find a solution," he said.

Mr Bailey said the state's freight rail network was recently hit by a perfect storm, with a train derailing at Traveston, closing the north coast line, while extensive flooding and a landslide closed the Toowoomba-Ipswich line.

This meant trains were unable to move between the south east and regional Queensland for an extended period, causing delays across the network.

"The weather event impacted all supply chains across Queensland not just the freight railway network," Mr Bailey said.

"These are the biggest factors in delays on the network, not Mr Katter's wild claims.

"It's disappointing Mr Katter is politicising a weather event when our crews have worked so hard to get our services back up and running."

The Aurizon spokesman confirmed that it was in discussions with Watco East West and would permit access to the rail-related infrastructure, including the rail loading ramps, subject to a commercial agreement being reached.

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Watco East West director Chris Hood said he was involved in ongoing constructive talks with Aurizon and the Queensland government.

"We're now waiting on some information on how we can move this issue forward," Mr Hood said.

"We're hoping to have it sorted out by the end of April - we're acting in good faith and we hope Aurizon is too. Cattle yards aren't expensive, after all."

Mr Hood said the criticism of cattle trains over the years had required the government to step in a new direction.

"This is a 10-year contract - there's bound to be a few rocks in the road that need sorting along the way."

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Sally Gall

Sally Gall

Senior journalist - Queensland Country Life/North Queensland Register

Based at Blackall, CW Qld, where I've raised a family, run Merino sheep and beef cattle, and helped develop a region - its history, tourism, education and communications.

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