QR leaves business for dead, Opposition claims


Queensland Rail will shut more freight depots in north and hike haulage charges, Opposition claims

By Michael House | November 26, 2009

Queensland Rail has denied claims it will shut more freight depots in the State's north and hike freight charges, amid claims it is leaving farmers and mineral producers in the lurch.

The State Opposition says another five depots will close under the Government's asset sell-off plans, claiming freight fees will jump by more than 400 percent in some areas.

Shadow Minister for Transport Fiona Simpson says depots in Bowen, Ayr, Ingham, Tully and Innisfail could all be shut down in the near future. Facilities in Charters Towers, Hughenden, Richmond, Julia Creek and Cloncurry have already closed.

The Opposition is concerned the closures will shift more freight to road and put pressure on networks like the Bruce Highway.

"The public rightfully feels betrayed by the Bligh Government’s proposed asset sale and concern that decisions currently being made aren’t designed to serve the greater transport needs of current and future generations," Simpson says.

But QR says there are no plans to close any more depots in the region and the increase in road transport has been beneficial to its customers.

"A proposal was developed at operational level to move low volume freight in Bowen, Ayr and Tully to road from rail to enable QR to provide a new rail service for a North Queensland company into Brisbane and southern states," a QR spokesman says.

"However the proposal was not seen or approved by senior management and is now not proceeding.

"The current rail service to Bowen, Ayr and Tully will continue and these depots will remain open."

The rail operator says it is "committed" to improving freight services for regional customers.

"This has been the experience on the north-west corridor between Townsville and Mount Isa where general freight was moved from rail to road last year," the spokesperson says.

"As result the delivery time from Mt Isa to Brisbane was slashed from more than 52 hours to 31 hours with no increase in the number of trucks on the road."

MINERAL RATES TO SOAR?
Further concerns about QR were put forward by Liberal-National MP for Burdekin Rosemary Menkens, who told Parliament on Tuesday charges for the transport of gypsum between Winton and Ayr will increase from $42.84 to $217.67.

According to Menkens the increases will jeopardise both the farming industry and the mining industry in the region as both rely on the production and use of the mineral.

Menkens says while freight charges are set to rise, delivery of gypsum to the area has become increasingly infrequent.

"Deliveries have become more and more sporadic and have forced the industry to truck gypsum by road to the Burdekin," she says.

"The Inkerman lime company supplies 1,200 tonnes of gypsum a week to the Burdekin district, but QR has ensured only one train load a week, which carries 600 tonnes, and even that has been very unreliable.

"With this increase in freight rates, this product will be priced out of range for many farmers."

Menkens believes the 408 percent rise in freight rates coupled with less deliveries will mean even more traffic on the area's roads.

"I thought Queensland Rail was there to service our industries, but it does not seem to be the case when it comes to primary industry," Menkens says.

"Only last week the Rail, Tram and Bus Union aired its fears that Queensland Rail would cut certain small freight deliveries. The union claims the freight will be redirected from rail to road, putting road infrastructure under more pressure."

QR refuses to confirm or deny the proposal to increase freight charges, but says it has been hauling the mineral in the area at a "considerable loss" and is looking at options for the gypsum business.

"We are working with customers to make this a sustainable business, rather than QR subsidising transport costs for private companies," a QR spokesman says.

"The seasonality of gypsum transport and uncommercial rates makes it difficult to maintain a sustainable business."

QR says it will not make any changes until after consulting with customers and other important stakeholders first.

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