Qld’s rail stock transport looks close to resuming

Jon Condon, 18/05/2018

RAIL livestock shipments look set to resume soon in Queensland, following an eight-month suspension caused by design flaws in Chinese-made stock crates which caused serious safety issues.

Cattle disembarking from a western depot at NH Foods Oakey Holdings meatworks

Rail transport of livestock across the state stopped at the end of September last year, due to failures in crate gate latches in the new wagons, commissioned only five months earlier.

There were at least three failures recorded in latches in a short period, including some occurring in built-up suburban areas, causing major public safety concerns. Several swinging gates actually hit suburban rail platforms in Brisbane, presenting a risk of death or injury.

All 320 crates in the livestock fleet owned by Queensland Rail (each sitting on a flatbed wagon owned by Aurizon) are being modified with more robust gate latch mechanisms, which are subject to the current series of trials. Early results look promising, a processor representative told Beef Central this afternoon. One described the fix as ‘bullet-proof.”

“It’s obviously easy to say this should have happened to start with, but these gate latches will be robust and durable – I have no double about that,” he said.

The first trial shipment of 30 wagons using new modified latch mechanisms loaded in the northwestern rail-head of Julia Creek yesterday, heading for Teys Lakes Creek plant. A second trial for JBS cattle leaves on Tuesday from Winton.

Once the trials are complete and stakeholders satisfied that they have stood up to the journey, the modifications to the rest of the fleet will follow. One source suggested full commercial operations could recommence as soon as July.

Queensland Rail hosted an information day last month for customers, seeking feedback on a prototype of the fix, which was signed-off on by stakeholders.

The rail freight suspension last September pushed a lot more slaughter stock onto the road transport network. Up to ten trains a week – each hauling 40-45 wagons with capacity for around 880 head of bullocks – have been taken off the rails since the safety concerns arose.

Quilpie has been only lightly serviced by rail over the past two years, because of the lack of cattle due to seasons, and more competitive prices being paid by processors in South Australia and Victoria.

“It looks like we’re on track to getting rail services restored,” a leading processor contact told Beef Central with some confidence this afternoon.

“It’s frustrating for all having to work through processes and due diligence with governments, and we understand all that, but everybody is just pleased that the end appears in sight. We all want the resumption of full service sooner rather than later.”


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