THE Queensland Government will this afternoon announce $2.5 million in funding for an upgrade to rail sidings on the Western line, including reopening part of an old branch line to support the expansion of Oakey Beef Exports near Toowoomba.
The result represents a big win for NH Foods, the owners of Oakey Beef Exports, which has been lobbying for support for the rail infrastructure improvements for at least two years.
State treasurer Curtis Pitt and transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe will formally make the announcement this afternoon.
A multi-stage, multi-million-dollar expansion of the Oakey Beef processing facility is expected to support more than 4300 jobs and deliver approximately $1.3 billion in economic activity within the region, Mr Pitt said.
“The Queensland Government is committed to supporting projects which provide jobs for regional Queenslanders and generate economic prosperity,” he said.
The project will help re-establish rail cattle movements from Southwestern regions of Queensland to Oakey, which will be critical to allow the plant to undertake a $60 million plant expansion which will ultimately double its output.
“I am confident that this investment will generate significant economic benefits within Oakey and surrounding areas, delivering a major boost for regional jobs and bolster economic confidence in this region,” Mr Pitt said.
The upgrading of rail infrastructure would allow Oakey Beef Exports to streamline its operations and efficiently move cattle by rail to Oakey from the big western cattle centres of Quilpie, Charleville, Morven, Roma and Mitchell.
A siding existed years ago at the Oakey plant, but it was de-commissioned through lack of use, because the plant at that time was much smaller, and more or less dedicated to processing grainfed cattle from NH Foods’ nearby Whyalla feedlot, the largest in Australia.
But major expansion at the plant, which now handles a much broader range of grassfed and grainfed slaughter stock, made the renewal of the rail siding a high priority.
Oakey Beef Exports general manager Pat Gleeson said full credit was due to the Queensland Government, particularly transport minister Stirling Hinchcliffe, to have the foresight to back the project.
He said it would represent a ‘win-win-win’ for all involved, adding regional employment, greatly reducing road transport traffic and improving highway safety on the already overtaxed western highway, while delivering greater efficiency and improved animal handing in stock transport operations.
“There’s not a negative in it,” Mr Gleeson said.
Mr Hinchliffe said he had asked Queensland Rail to start planning activities immediately and begin work to upgrade the infrastructure within six months.
Mr Gleeson said he was confident that the plant would process its first rail-delivered slaughter stock before the end of the 2016 season. The plant currently has a capacity of around 1200 per day, and accounted for close to 300,000 head in the very busy 2015 year.
The upgrade project will include two sidings and reopening part of the old Cecil Plains branch line which was closed in 1994. The branch line runs directly adjacent to the Oakey Beef facility and will allow the company to reinstate rail freight movements direct to the plant’s holding yards.
“This project reflects the Palaszczuk Government’s commitment to invest in rail freight and support jobs growth for Queensland. We want to see more freight on our rail network, and will continue to support projects that deliver an economic benefit for our state,” Mr Hinchcliffe said.
“The Palaszczuk Government has been working closely with the Murweh Council, the South West Regional Economic Development Association and Oakey Beef Exports to identify the opportunities that this project will bring to Queensland and our economy,” he said.
Mr Gleeson said ‘good meetings’ had already been held with service provider Aurizon, and he believed it would not take that long to implement the upgrade, once they got the nod.
Aurizon had already done some pro-active work in looking at scheduling rail services, and access to rolling stock.