Grain on Rail Again
Railway trucks full of grain are once again travelling through Warwick on their way to Brisbane.
The South-west line which runs from Brisbane, through Toowoomba then Warwick, Goondiwindi and all points further west, has seen very little freight for some years now while Queensland Rail has concentrated on carrying coal from further north to Gladstone for export.
I’m not knocking the coal industry, Australian coal is of excellent quality, burns very hot which makes it suitable for steel manufacture, has less contaminants than most other coal and customers in India and other countries which still depend on coal-fired power stations for base-load electricity, need it.
However, by committing so much to transporting coal, Queensland Rail has ‘dropped the ball’ as far as grain is concerned.
My take on the whole Queensland Rail freight business does not give any credit to Government, managers and senior staff. Lack of drivers, no engines, old and poorly maintained rolling stock, poor planning and, in my thinking, not too clever.
This is Australia’s grain I’m talking about, meant for both domestic and export markets and worth billions to the economy which has been travelling by trucks on our highways.
South-west Queensland’s grain goes to the Port of Brisbane where some will be loaded directly onto ships bound for ports all over the world.
So how is grain back on trains and not trucks?
I was stopped at a level crossing in Warwick a few weeks ago while a grain train passed through, pulled by a large yellow and black-liveried diesel engine with the name Watco emblazoned along both sides.
Being a former railway employee when I first left school, it gives me great pleasure to see our rail infrastructure being used.
It’s good for taxpayers too.
Triple bogie semis do a lot of damage to our roads, especially on tight turns where the rear trailer tyres tear pieces of bitumen from the road surface (in the USA, triple bogie trucks are banned on many roads) and most of our grain has been carried in triple bogie trucks.
The reason we’re seeing these large engines on our rails is due to the emergence of Watco Australia.
Watco is an American-owned business which operates transport services in several countries and in Western Australia. They wouldn’t be carting grain in Australia if there wasn’t a profit to be made.
I’m at a loss to explain why Queensland Rail couldn’t make a profit where an overseas company can even transport their own diesel engines and full maintenance equipment to Australia and still turn a profit.
The Watco Australia WRA class is an Australian diesel-electric locomotive built by National Railway Equipment Company in Illinois for use in Queensland. They are equipped with a V12 diesel prime mover, rated at 1.6MW
The first of these locomotives arrived in Brisbane on October 9, 2019 and were transferred to Warwick where Watco set up their own depot and are using the original and historic sandstone goods shed along with some of the facilities of the Southern Downs Steam Rail Group including part of the old restored ‘roundhouse’ and the 58 feet (17.68m) sandstone turntable.
In earlier years, Warwick was a railway hub with over 500 men and women employed in the various sections including a major workshop.
Watco signed a 10-year rail haulage contract with GrainCorp, acquiring new rolling stock consisting of eight new National Rail and Equipment (NRE) locomotives and 128 wagons.
Each of these freight wagons are bolted together from lightweight aluminium to conform to axle loads permitted on Queensland’s rail lines, each being watertight and able to carry 46.6 tonnes.
Watco has already brought 20 new jobs into Warwick but more are on the way when their services expand into livestock carting, another area Queensland Rail has failed to maintain.
I dove a little experience with livestock carting by rail and perhaps there’s an article to be written in future.
While I’m really pleased to see our railway infra-structure being used as it was designed, I reflected on how followers of Jesus sometimes fall away from the ‘straight and narrow’ or in other words, leave the railway line to greater glory.
It’s not surprising, our enemy, the devil, is no fool. He is not only ‘King of the Flies’ but is the best liar, cheat and scoundrel ever known and can lead us astray unless we stay embedded in the vine which is Jesus.
Staying on our own ‘railway line’ isn’t easy but stay the course we must.
John Skinner is a retired journalist who has written ten biographies on famous campdrafting competitors. He was an Australian infantry soldier wounded in Vietnam, served six years as a Police Officer, was CEO of the then Australian Rough Riders Assn (Pro-Rodeo based in Warwick, Qld). He and his wife Marion retired to a small farm 25km south of Warwick 20 years ago. They have three children and now seven grandchildren.