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Regional rail closure

Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (15:54): To continue in that vein, following the member for Light, I, too, am going to talk about trains.

The Hon. A. Piccolo: You don’t have them in your area anymore.

Mr TRELOAR: We do not now and that is exactly what I am going to talk about. Sadly, last Thursday, 30 May, the final train passed through Cummins and delivered its last load of grain into Port Lincoln on 31 May, bringing to an end more than 100 years of rail service to Eyre Peninsula. Unfortunately, it reached the end of its line. It was a system that was inextricably linked with the settlement of Eyre Peninsula. It was a sad day for many who had grown up with the rail system, which has provided an important service to the residents of Eyre Peninsula.

It was a sad and significant end to a line that has serviced Eyre Peninsula for more than 110 years, with the first line extending from Port Lincoln to Cummins in 1907. In many ways, the die was cast decades ago. In 1997, Genesee & Wyoming, known as GWA, purchased the Eyre Peninsula line from the then commonwealth government. In the early 2000s, the ownership structure of our storage and handler changed from a grower-owned cooperative that we knew as SACBH to a commercial entity. The bulk-handling facilities are currently owned by Viterra, a Glencore company.

It has often been stated by the Minister for Transport that only one-third of the Eyre Peninsula grain crop is currently hauled by rail, with two-thirds already getting to port by road. It is critical to remember that the crop will be delivered to the market, rail or no rail. The focus is now shifting from the rail line itself to the need for additional spending on roads and related infrastructure. Estimates vary, but Viterra itself is suggesting an extra two trucks an hour on our roads.

An upgrade to parts of the line was made in 2004 when, through a combination of funding from federal and state governments and the operators, a $41 million road and rail package extended the operational life of the line. Part of that investment was a $2 million grower-funded levy. A significant contraction of the rail service occurred at this time, with Wudinna and Kimba becoming terminus stations. In 2017, the state government and GWA commissioned a freight report suggesting a number of options going forward. High-level discussions took place. Unfortunately, by 2018, the two businesses involved, Viterra and GWA, were unable to come to a contractual agreement to continue using rail to transport grain.

The result is that between 500,000 and 750,000 tonnes, the amount currently hauled by rail, will now transition to road. There is always a human side to such decisions. Unfortunately, 30 to 40 jobs have been lost in the area following the rail closure, bearing in mind that, once upon a time, the railways on Eyre Peninsula employed over 600 people. On the flip side, there will almost certainly be extra work for our truckers. After playing a critical role in the settlement, transport, communication and even social activities of Eyre Peninsula for more than 100 years, I, for one, will be sad to see the trains go.

There are several stakeholders at the table, with local, state and federal governments all being asked to consider funding streams for our roads at relatively short notice. This issue has consumed much of my time and the time of many others for the past 12 months. I am pleased to say that the state government will partner with the federal government to invest $32 million to upgrade our local roads to help cater for the increase in freight movement. Obviously, there is input from council, Regional Development Australia and the trucking industry itself, which will be critical in deciding and determining where this money will be spent.

Aside from the grain task, GWA also owns and continues to operate the rail from the Kevin mine site west of Ceduna into Thevenard. Gypsum from the mine is loaded onto ships bound, for the most part, for the building industry on the eastern seaboard. This service will continue, given the mine life at Kevin is expected to be at least another 200 years. A number of new port facilities have also been proposed for various sites around Eyre Peninsula. It will be interesting to see how these develop and how they might change the way grain flows across Eyre Peninsula.

Many people gathered in Cummins the other morning for a 10.30 send-off to the final train. Schoolchildren came across, ladies ran a trading table outside the front hall, ABC regional broadcast from the town hall and a few speeches were made by various dignitaries. It was sad in a way, but it was a wonderful send-off. The train drivers came off the train and were presented with a small token of appreciation from the community of Cummins and from the community of Eyre Peninsula as a whole.

 

 

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