Peter's Blog

End of the line

Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Miscellaneous No 4) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading (resumed on motion).

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (15:39): I rise today to take the opportunity to contribute to this very important bill. I note that many of the contributions thus far have been broad ranging. Mine also will be of that nature, given the announcement just a few weeks ago from Genesee & Wyoming that the rail service on Eyre Peninsula will cease to function and cease to provide a service after 31 March. In the first instance, I will talk about the bill at hand.

The Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Miscellaneous No 4) Amendment Bill 2019 amends the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012 by inserting new provisions relating to drug and alcohol testing, to provide an additional exception to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1991 and to implement routine amendments arising from the national law maintenance process.

In December 2009, the Council of Australian Governments agreed to implement a national single rail safety regulator and develop a rail safety national law that a regulator would administer. The Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator has an overarching function of working with rail transport operators, rail safety workers and others involved in railway operation to improve rail safety nationally. South Australia, as host jurisdiction, is responsible for the passage of the national law and any amendment bills through the South Australia parliament and for the making of regulations to support national law.

The national law came into operation on 20 January 2013, and was debated in this very house. This rail amendment bill is the fourth amendment package. When approving the national law in 2012, the council requested a review of the current drug and alcohol legislative requirements—hence today’s debate—the scope of which the council approved in 2014. Section 127 of the national law governs the requirement for a rail safety worker to submit to a drug screening test, oral fluid analysis or blood test, or a combination of these. The rail amendment bill complements section 127 by including the ability to require urine testing as an alternative method of testing rail safety workers for drugs and alcohol.

The rail regulator has requested that, once passed by parliament, the rail amendment act will come into effect from 1 July 2019. The proposed amendments in the rail amendment bill were developed by the rail regulator in close consultation with the commonwealth, state and territory transport agencies and representatives of the Australasian Railway Association, Australian Local Government Association and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union. All those consulted support the amendments, hence the support for this particular amendment bill.

I now want to turn my comments to the rail system on Eyre Peninsula. I note the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure is sitting just in front of me and we have had many conversations about this particular issue over the last six or even 12 months, dare I say. The Eyre Peninsula railway system is a system of transport that is very dear to my heart given that those of us on Eyre Peninsula have all grown up with the rail system functioning and providing a really important service to the residents of Eyre Peninsula.

My great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side actually arrived in Cummins to work on the railways. His son, my great-grandfather, duly followed with his family, promptly had 11 children and settled in the area for the long term. It is interesting that so many families now residing on Eyre Peninsula originally had links with the railway system.

The rail system is inextricably linked with the settlement and growth of Eyre Peninsula. I assume an act of parliament decreed that a railway be built on Eyre Peninsula. It was begun in 1906. It extended north from Port Lincoln and arrived in Cummins in 1907, and the first train ran late in that same year. In the interim, it had taken a trainload of passengers for a picnic at the Warunda railway site, which would have been highly exciting. I have a photograph of that my office here in Parliament House. It ultimately reached Cummins in time to haul freight (wheat) to Port Lincoln from the 1907 harvest.

In 1909, it was extended to Yalata and over the following two decades extended from Yalata to Mount Hope, on to the port at Thevenard in the far west of the state, out to Penong, which is even further west than Thevenard, and there was a branch line also from Cummins to Buckleboo. So it serviced the entire agricultural areas of Eyre Peninsula. There was even a spur line surveyed from Kielpa to Mangalo, which was not ever constructed but was certainly forecast at some point. It was built on the cheap. Even from the very early days, it tended to be built with second-hand materials. Initially there was no ballast for the sleepers and rails. You can imagine what some of that heavy clay in that Cummins country would have done to the rails with no ballast in a wet year.

It was critical to the people of Eyre Peninsula. It provided a freight service, it carted produce up and back, it provided communication and it provided a passenger service to the residents of Eyre Peninsula. It was particularly important for the settlements. The train line actually grew along with the settlement of Eyre Peninsula and ultimately extended to Minnipa, where trains turned around. They went as far as Minnipa from Port Lincoln and from Thevenard, and each of those train services turned around in Minnipa and went on their return journey.

In the early days, a critically important task of the train service was to cart water across Eyre Peninsula. Of course, there was no reticulated service until late in the 1920s when the Tod River Reservoir was built and the reticulated scheme was extended from Eyre Peninsula. Up until that time, a big task of the train was to cart water to the settlements up and down the line for use in the towns but also as stock and surface water.

The rail service reached its maximum extent in the late 1920s. From then until the early 1950s, it operated at its maximum capacity. There were over 80 railway sidings up and down the railway line. Slowly, from the early 1950s onwards, they began to close. Things were beginning to change. Lots of changes were made over the life of the railway. They installed some ballast, which helped no end. There were far fewer derailments after the ballast was put in under the sleepers. Railcars came into being—there was a converted bus which provided a passenger service, rather than people actually riding in a carriage on the train.

There are many great stories that come from the years of rail. One of the more famous or prominent ones relates to this bill directly in that the railcar drivers were renowned for drinking on the job. They would leave Port Lincoln at the designated hour with a flagon of port stowed underneath the seat, and they would sip away at it as they journeyed up to Buckleboo or Minnipa, or back the other way, or wherever they were going.

I am not suggesting that they were ever over the limit, but just occasionally, towards the end of the journey, they would miss a stop, much to the consternation of the passengers. In fact, I know that some of the passengers came to learn to drive these railcars and, should the designated railcar driver not be able to carry out his task, the passengers were well able to take control. That is just one of many wonderful stories that stem from the early days of rail.

Of course, steam trains were replaced by diesel electrics. I am old enough to just remember the last steam train in Cummins, which appeared in the 1960s. A big change came with the erection of around 25 silo complexes by SACBH during the late fifties, the early sixties and into the seventies. It meant that bulk deliveries of grain came into being and the wheat stacks disappeared. The wheat stacks existed on each and every siding up and down the railway line, and a whole culture and work ethic developed around these wheat stacks.

In fact, only today I was talking to two long-time residents of Eyre Peninsula. We were talking about one Pat Cronin, who lived in Cummins and actually has the world record for sewing bags: in excess of 700 in an eight-hour day. Can you believe that? The erection of the silos by SACBH introduced bulk handling. My father still believes that this was the greatest change ever to come to his farming career. No longer did they have to sew and lump bags—lump them many times, unload them from the header, drop them in the paddocks, sew them up, take them to the siding, stack them, load them onto the train and unload them again at the ports.

I remember when they removed the guard van from the end of the train. Of course, that meant the end of the van and the guards as well. It was all about efficiency. Even in those days, the drive was towards efficiency. We have seen that more and more lately. In the mid-2000s there was a significant investment of about $39 million, some of which was contributed through a levy raised from farmers. All the grain growers on Eyre Peninsula were levied 50¢ a tonne up until $2 million was raised.

Other contributions came from the state government and the federal government. Viterra, of course, had an interest and made an in-kind contribution. That in a way extended the life of the rail service for another decade or more, but at that same time the rail service was truncated at both Wudinna and Kimba, which meant that from Wudinna to Thevenard there was no longer a rail service and from Kimba to Buckleboo there was no longer a rail service. Already we were starting to see the shift from rail to road.

The line remained open from Wudinna to Thevenard in order to shuttle diesel engines up and down the line, because Genesee & Wyoming, who by that stage were the operators of the line, were still operating a run from Thevenard to the Kevin mine site west of Ceduna where three loads a day were coming into Thevenard from the gypsum mine at Penong and were loaded onboard ship at Thevenard: mostly coastal shipping and mostly to the east coast into the building industry.

Of late, we have seen a further drive towards efficiency. What I have noticed in recent years is that Genesee & Wyoming have been running just one train a day. Having said that, it is a long train. They generally run four engines and 60 carriages, so it certainly is a long train. To my mind, that is an efficient way to haul grain.

The pressures continued and the competitive pressures are coming from road transport. When I first started farming there was the much referred to seven tonne Bedford. That is what farmers had and that is what grain was transported in from farm to silo. Things have changed and we have seen the introduction of road trains. Road trains are common place now on Eyre Peninsula. There are B-doubles and B-triples are developing. The minister will know better than me how these are changing the freight task on Eyre Peninsula.

The flexibility that trucks are now giving the grain farmer and the storage and handler has really put pressure on the rail freight operator. This is a commercial decision. I do not want to pretend that anyone is particularly to blame for this. It is just how the freight task has evolved unfortunately. Sadly, in my eyes, the rail operation has come under competitive pressure and is no longer able to continue.

In recent times there has been a contract in place between Viterra, who is the storage and handler, and Genesee & Wyoming. Genesee & Wyoming are in the unenviable position of having just one customer, that being Viterra. In a way, Viterra held may of the cards in their hands and saw the opportunity to reduce some of their freight costs and shift things to road. I guess what I am saying is that it has brewing for a while. It is a sad day. It is an unfortunate day, but in some ways it is no surprise.

Unfortunately, 33 jobs will be lost in Port Lincoln, almost solely those who work on the railway line, either drivers or maintenance gangs. I have spoken to a couple of the drivers and they are pleased really in some ways that the announcement has finally been made and they know full well what their future is. Many have taken packages or have taken up relocation options and some have other things to do.

One of the challenges that will arise as a result of this closure is that there will be more trucks on the road, primarily on state roads, on our arterial roads: the Flinders Highway, the Tod Highway and the Lincoln Highway, because all those roads funnel into Port Lincoln. Despite the fact that there are other port proposals at hand, the grain is still exported both from Port Lincoln and Thevenard. Make no mistake—the grain will still get to port; it will just get there in a different fashion now and arrive by truck.

There will be pressure on the roads. There will be pressure on those arterial roads that are heading towards both Thevenard and Port Lincoln. Unfortunately, because of the geography of Port Lincoln, much of that truck traffic will be directed through downtown Port Lincoln. There is little way around that. Lots of ideas are being tossed around—perhaps even using the existing freight corridor that is occupied by the rail line to transport those trucks from the west into the silo complex at Port Lincoln—but let’s see how that unfolds. There will be much discussion about that.

I have to remind people that 60 to 70 per cent of the Eyre Peninsula grain crop is already transported by road, so even though there will be up to three-quarters of a million extra tonnes on the road as a result of the ending of this contract and the addition of a number of trucks, only an extra 30 per cent of the grain crop will be going on the road.

It will be imperative that money is spent on our state roads particularly. I have mentioned the Tod, Lincoln and Flinders highways. They will bear the brunt of this freight task. Ultimately, the City of Port Lincoln will have to handle a number of extra trucks up and down Liverpool Street and, more particularly, through Western Approach Road and Mortlock Terrace. Let’s see how that goes. I am still hopeful that negotiations will prove fruitful with both the state and federal governments in relation to funding for our roads.

With the few minutes I have remaining, I would particularly like to mention two things. The first is the DPTI freight study that was undertaken by the previous state government.

The Hon. S.K. Knoll: Do you want to see it?

Mr TRELOAR: I would love to see it, minister. A lot of people would. My comments are around the fact that we have not yet, as stakeholders, been able to see it. I am sure there are good reasons for that.

Mr Brown: There’s a minister there—ask him.

Mr TRELOAR: Don’t worry, member for Playford. We have had those discussions and I am sure there are good reasons, but I would remind the minister that there are many stakeholders in this, not the least being the residents of Eyre Peninsula, the districts councils and the city council of Port Lincoln, and they are looking forward with much anticipation to seeing what is in that report.

Finally, I would like to mention the Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society, ably led by Peter Knife, who is an absolutely passionate railway buff—is there any other sort, I wonder? The first time I met Peter, I was stopped on the railway crossing at Edillilie, crossing to my place, and there was this fellow taking photographs. I had no idea who he was, but I was intrigued because I did not know him. He was taking photographs of the trains coming through Edillilie. I introduced myself and he introduced himself to me. He was a resident of New South Wales, but has a particular passion for the Eyre Peninsula rail system, so much so that he has an exact replica of the Minnipa rail siding complex in his garage. It is an extraordinary thing to see, if anyone is in Port Lincoln.

Peter has come to live in Port Lincoln now and is heading up the Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society. He has also written and produced three magnificent volumes of the history of Eyre Peninsula. I am going to loan one to the member for Narungga because I can see he is interested and would love to read it. I inform the house that I, too, am a fan of rail. My compliments go to Peter and his work and also the Eyre Peninsula Railway Preservation Society because they are passionate. They will have an even greater task now. They are resident within the old Port Lincoln railway station. One of their big asks is that they are able to remain there, so that is a negotiation that will be going on. It is a really important job that they do and it will probably become even more important now.