Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (14:43): My question is to the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government. Can the minister update the house on the future of the Eyre Peninsula rail network?
The Hon. S.K. KNOLL (Schubert—Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Local Government, Minister for Planning) (14:43): I thank the member for Flinders very much for this question. I did try to update the house on this a little bit earlier, especially considering there are some out there who are saying that, in relation to the Eyre Peninsula rail line closing, this government was asked to put money into upgrading the rail line, which is not true, but also that this would lead to increased costs for grain growers, and that is certainly something that hasn’t been put to me. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a fact that the road transport has now improved to the point where it’s taking 70 per cent of the existing grain task around Eyre Peninsula because it provides a better cost solution.
To update the house, to give facts to the house, so that some of those who are a little bit angry can be availed of some facts, Viterra has today announced that it will not be extending its contract with Genesee & Wyoming Australia past 31 May 2019, that date being chosen because of the more limited harvest this year and the lower than usual grain task.
First and foremost, this is a commercial decision by Viterra and GWA. The economic viability of this rail network has been in doubt for a long period of time. The condition of the rail infrastructure and the restrictions it places on operations have added to the costs of doing business for Viterra such that it is simply no longer efficient to move the grain by rail.
It is important to keep in mind that this very aged network is only capable of low axle loads. In the coming months, Viterra will make investments to support the transition to road transport only. We understand also that GWA has advised its employees today. We have welcomed the openness with which Viterra and GWA have kept us informed throughout the discussions.
Again, it should be noted that some 60 to 70 per cent of the grain is currently already hauled by road on Eyre Peninsula. We have been informed that the closure of the rail will lead to roughly 50 extra trucks a day in and around Port Lincoln. We are very mindful of what this might mean for residents and have been exploring a number of options with the commonwealth government. To date, we have had very productive discussions with the commonwealth and we are confident that we are close to delivering a solution. We also look forward to engaging with the Port Lincoln council and the other councils on Eyre Peninsula as we refine options going forward about what the solution will entail.