RAIL company Aurizon has moved to block the use of another North Queensland loading yard, ordering the current contractors to cease using a facility in Cloncurry.
Last year, the company lost the cattle transport contract on the Mount Isa to Townsville line to another organisation called Watco East West. Aurizon has since padlocked loading facilities in Julia Creek, Richmond and Hughenden while it seeks a commercial agreement with Watco to use them – those discussions are ongoing.
Trains re-started on the northern line last week, with the cattle being loaded in Cloncurry. But Beef Central understands there was an argument at the yards while they were being loaded, with Aurizon staff saying the loading facilities were not allowed to be used.
The Cloncurry Shire Council owns the facility, which is one of the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. But Aurizon has blocked the use of some pens the company is leasing from the council, which have commonly been used to transport cattle from the dirty tick area to the clean yards.
Cloncurry spelling yard contractor Dustin Keyes said there was no padlocks like the loading yards further east and the Aurizon-leased pens were not integral to running the yards.
“We have laneways here that allow us to go around Aurizon’s pens, so it won’t stop us from doing our day-to-day work – it adds about two minutes the usual route,” Mr Keyes said.
“We have also been in touch with Watco and told them to keep the trains coming, because we are still allowed to load them.”
A Watco spokesman said Aurizon had issued legal proceedings against the company, meaning he was unable to comment on the situation.
“We hope for the sake of the northern beef industry and customers that this issue can be sorted honourably, maturely and quickly,” the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Aurizon said Watco had not been responding to its offers to use the facilities.
“In April 2022, Aurizon provided a commercial proposal to Watco East West (Watco) that would permit access to the rail-related livestock infrastructure on Aurizon-owned land on the north west Qld rail corridor. Watco has not responded to this offer nor entered any negotiations with Aurizon,” the spokesman said.
“Aurizon has since become aware that Watco is using livestock facilities owned by Aurizon without our knowledge or permission. Aurizon has written to Watco advising them to cease because unauthorised use cannot be permitted due to safety concerns.
“Aurizon remains willing to negotiate commercial terms of access with Watco which would permit it to safely and lawfully access and use Aurizon owned livestock assets and land.”
Senator concerned about yard ownership
Nationals’ senator Susan McDonald said the latest developments from Aurizon were disappointing.
“Aurizon representatives were at a forum in Cloncurry a couple of weeks ago espousing the company’s investments and everyone was very polite about the fact they had locked these yards,” Ms McDonald said.
“But for them now to do this in Cloncurry just beggars’ belief. It’s another reflection of people from outside the region making decisions that aren’t in the best interest of North Queensland.”
Ms McDonald said she was concerned about Aurizon owning the yards in the first place.
“When the state government privatised Aurizon it was everybody’s understanding that Queensland Rail owned the below rail infrastructure and loading yards would be part of that,” she said.
“Now that we have discovered these assets were given over for a peppercorn price, I have some serious questions about the deal that was made.”