Bumper harvest will fall to trucking operators

More trucks will be needed to deliver a bumper NSW grain harvest due to problems with the rail network

Bumper harvest will fall to trucking operators
Bumper harvest will fall to trucking operators
By Brad Gardner | September 23, 2010

Rural and regional roads in NSW may be hit with an increase in trucks during this year’s grain harvest due to concerns over rail’s reliability to deliver goods.

As the state prepares for a bumper harvest on the back of above average rainfall, there are warnings the task of delivering crops will fall heavily on road transport operators.

NSW Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson says rail lines are deteriorating to the point where they can longer transport grain, leading to more trucks on the road.

"Only last week, seven fully loaded GrainCorp wagons derailed a short distance south of Coonamble on the Coonamble to Dubbo line because of inadequate maintenance," she says.

"The failure of the state Labor government to maintain grain branch lines places additional pressure on regional roads. One grain train can replace hundreds of semitrailers."

Hodgkinson says several mayors in her region have contacted her concerned about the prospect of an increase in heavy vehicle movements.

"This issue will continue to bubble throughout the season because people are concerned at the number of trucks travelling on rural and regional roads," she says.

"The additional cost of repairing regional roads damaged by grain trucks is borne solely by local government authorities."

Hodgkinson has urged the Government to look at track access fees for grain branch lines, which she says were recently increased by 18 percent.

"The least the government can do is to reverse the decision to increase track access charges for grain branch lines," she says.

Regardless of rail’s problems, trucking operators faced a busy period ahead. The latest NSW Grains Report estimates a harvest of 12.57 million tonnes of cereals and 1.44 million tonnes of pulse and oilseeds.

"Obviously, the better the yield from our crops, the higher the number of heavy vehicle movements," Hodgkinson says.

"The NSW share of the national crop looks like it might reach 14.5 million tonnes, which, if achieved, will be almost double last year’s drought-affected crop."

Despite the high Australian dollar, Hodgkinson still expects exporters will benefit due to weather damage in Europe and drought in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Keira MP David Campbell says the 2010 wheat crop in NSW might be the highest-value crop ever produced in NSW.

"Winter crops are thriving and farmers are preparing for what could be the best harvest in more than a decade," he says.

"The bumper crop comprises 2.95 million hectares of wheat, 316,500 hectares of canola, 782,000 hectares of barley and 337,000 hectares of chickpeas."

The NSW Grain Freight Review commissioned by the Federal Government last year said branch lines required a one-off capital injection and a long-term funding commitment to improve their condition and provide certainty for farmers and business.

According to the report, farmers face an increase in freight costs if branch lines closed because road transport is more expensive.

"There is some urgency surrounding the investment required in the branch line network. If these decisions and investments are not made quickly, it is likely that the track manager will close lines due to safety concerns in the near future," the report says.

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