GRAIN companies are facing a shortage of trains to transport a record wheat harvest to overseas markets.
Farmers, the Nationals and grain marketers fear that mining companies' long-term train leases, as well as "run down" rail lines, could see a delay in getting wheat to the nation's ports, to capitalise on high grain prices overseas.
Nationals leader Warren Truss expressed concern over the competition for trains. "It was always going to be the case that if we had a bumper grain harvest, there was going to be difficulties getting the grain to port," a spokesman for Mr Truss said.
The spokesman also said many rail lines had been neglected during the drought. "The NSW main-lines have basically been allowed to become run-down," he said.
Graincorp, the biggest player in the Australian wheat market, spent up to $35 million a year on the leasing trains and wagons from ARG and Pacific National during the drought, even though crops were insufficient to make full use of the rolling stock.
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Graincorp spokesman David Ginns said the leased wagons could hold 3.5 million tonnes of grain at any one time.
Mr Ginns said he was aware of other companies that thought it was too risky to lease trains without knowing how large crops would be. "There's a few people lamenting the lack of rolling stock now," Mr Ginns said, but declined to name those companies.
"There's obviously not as much rail capacity as there has been. We've got our own rail capacity, which is principally for our own purposes."
Peter McBride, a spokesman for former grain giant AWB Limited, said his company was optimistic that it would have enough. "At this stage, we don't foresee any problems," Mr McBride said, adding that AWB had leased some of its trains to other exporters in recent years.
National Farmers Federation president David Crombie said miners offered more stability to train-owners than grain exporters. "Agriculture depends on seasons," Mr Crombie said.
"When the demand for trains is there, it's major and that's the challenge for grain companies."
Mr Ginns said Graincorp and mining companies had had to compete for trains for several years, which cost his company millions of dollars during the drought.
"The big problem is that you've got to sign up to multi-year leases," Mr Ginns said.
"We've got to pay for that lease, no matter what the harvest is."
But Mr Ginns said the biggest problem facing grain exporters was the number of train lines in need of repair -- particularly those off the main tracks.
He said a train-line through the Victorian town of Dookie, about 220km north of Melbourne, was one in need of urgent attention.
"That's forcing more and more trucks on to the road," he said.
"There has to be some serious investment into fixing these lines."
With this does anybody know whether Vline are going to repair the Dookie line for grain trains this season? And will the other closed lines such as Moulemein be reopened?