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WA seeks land bridge to cover rail gap

Other transport modes to be used for east-west freight says Saffioti


As the great northern deluge looks in danger of cutting off the remaining land freight route to the Northern Territory, Western Australia looking to use road and sea options to help ease its shortages.

WA transport minister Rita Saffioti has used the term ‘land bridge’ and flagged opening the states freight roads to longer combinations in a bid to ease shortages, particularly of eastern-sourced foodstuffs.

“Triple road trains will increase the capacity of the trucks by about 50 per cent,” Saffioti said.

The WA government will set aside apparent public concerns about the bigger trucks aside temporarily and underlined that such trucks will run under escort.

In the meantime, following a meeting with the Freight and Logistics Council of WA, Saffioti expected to be discussing with other states ways to work around the rail gap, with trains used between Perth and Kalgoorlie in the west and up to South Australia in the east.

But she also put the use of shipping into the mix, as the federal opposition again spruiked its ‘national fleet’, with former opposition leader and present government services spokesman Bill Shorten raising it in an opinion piece in the West Australian newspaper as a solution to such a crisis in the future.

“At today’s Freight and Logistics Council meeting, we discussed the alternative options to move freight to Western Australia,” Saffioti said in a social media post yesterday.

“This includes a ‘and bridge’ combining rail and road, triple road trains and shipping options.

“As part of our normal agenda we also sought to adress the many challenges Covid has brought, including discussion of the isolation and testing requirements for industry, and measures to try and increase the workforce.

“By working together, government, industry and the community, we can meet the challenges.”

Given the sheer number of trucks that will be needed for many weeks before supply chains return to normal, Western Roads Federation (WRF) CEO Cam Dumesny urged road-freight firms to discuss with their customers about the reality of the situation and work out some “good, creative solutions to move freight across the paddock”.

Dumesny believed that there are likely to be trains speed restrictions even after the lines are open, which is expected to be mid-month.

“Retailers are saying it will take at least a month to rebuild WA’s stock levels,” he told ATN, saying trailer rates have doubled.

“If I was an east-coast transport company at the moment, I would be going direct to my customers and suppliers and say ‘we can run these options for you across the Nullabor for the next three weeks and get some loads out there’.

“Tell you what, that’s a price-competitive market.”

Dumesny urged all players in freight transport and beyond to display the utmost flexibility, insisting the now was the worst time to act otherwise.

Yesterday morning, an anonymous caller to Radio 6PR reported his very large transport firm was standing down truck drivers, due to Covid restrictions on drivers crossing the state border and red tape related to load-size mismatches. 

The caller said his firm’s last loads were being fulfilled on the day.

WRF had foretold elements of this disruption at the time the WA government announced the resumption of its hard border last month.

It had flagged deep anger amongst east-west operators that were already struggling to find drivers prepared to travel this route given the harsh conditions imposed on them whilst in the state.

Back then, it had called on the state government to:

  • allow the return to WA of nearly 300 transport and logistics staff stuck outside of the state
  • invest in a dedicated rest area exclusively for interstate drivers coming to Perth, so that they can self -isolate outside of their Trucks with facilities equivalent to a good ‘truckie lounge’
  • determine how it is going to address the on-going skills shortage
  • determine what action it is going to take to address the declining state transport and logistics productivity
  • define what action it is going to take to build up the resilience of WA’s transport and logistics sector to cope with supply disruptions
  • explain how it intends to compensate the transport and logistics industry for the costs incurred by this change.

To the north, the Stuart Highway is unlikely to be passable for almost two weeks, unless weather systems and resultant water flows see further inundation.

This has left the Barkly Highway as the only viable freight route for restocking goods to the NT.

However, the Bureau of Meteorology forecasts a monsoonal trough stretching across the top quarter of the country for at least the next four days.


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