Interesting discussion. The question in my mind relates to what initiatives GWA are undertaking to supplement the lost traffic by gaining new customers or looking at new types of freight. Livestock, Petroleum products, new routes, new markets?
That's an interesting question. There is a small amount of fuel traffic between Darwin and Alice but it's road tankers on flat wagons.
Livestock - there's been none of that in NT since the line opened to Darwin. Aurizon still does some I believe in QLD but that'd be legacy QR contracted working I suspect.
Fuel - that's definitely possible but I think the majority of fuel supplies for Alice Springs are road-tankered along the Sturt Highway from the south (?). Running dedicated fuel trains, esp. for Alice Springs, might be in the realm of possibility. After all there was, for a time, crude oil working from Mereenie but not quite the same as transporting refined products. Maybe now that Australian refineries are being shut and changed into bulk import distribution centres, fuel trains may fit into the bigger picture. Darwin has a big Vopak fuel import terminal at East Arm right next to the rail yard but no rail siding or rail tanker loading facilities exist.
New routes - not much of that GWA can exploit as they'd need to find ways to leverage new business over and above what PN, Aurizon and SCT already have, but GWA's pursued coal contracts in the Hunter Valley a few times (perhaps more speculative that genuinely expecting to win them?). GWA's advantage operationally has been the leasing of the non-ARTC lines, but except for narrow gauge on the Eyre Peninsula, there's only SG grain on Loxton and Pinnaroo which is existing working via the Viterra contract. However most of the leased lines are suspended/dormant due to changes in overall transport regimes for export grain and no other conceivable freight markets to generate reliable revenues from that might get lines back open again.
New markets - Same as for above. I think that getting Freightlink was an easy way to 'cartelise' the NT working in some way. GWA has done a little bit of new market traffic on that via the Wirrida copper ore out of the Prominent Hill mine, and the fridge box contract via Camerons, plus the two other originals with the Union Reef and Muckaty ore trains, but beyond that there hasn't been anything significant. As above, Hunter Valley coal work has been peeked at. Maybe GWA views operating outside of the SA/NT regimen as too risky? Hunter coal work is a genuine honey pot for PN, Aurizon and now for SSR somewhat too. I don't know what Freightliner's view would be as they're linked in with Glencore only.
PN has the Leigh Creek coal work sewn up. Revitalising grain transport on rail could be one area but I think GWA's decided to go right away from that hence no BG grain for about 8 yrs now.
A thorny issue that appears often is the Mount Gambier line, which reportedly has $1.25 million allocated by the SA govt some years ago for conversion to SG. I don't think that line is in GWA's lease though it might be, however there's a lot of transport in/out/through Mt Gambier.
The other area that's a possibility is Wallaroo. There is already a mining company in advanced stages of planning on how to use that line to access the port, but I don't know if that's a line in GWA's lease. I don't believe since GWRR came to Australia there has been any use of the Wallaroo line for rail freight to the ports. I don't think the SG conversion ever went all the way from Snowtown beyond Bute or Kadina, so the rest of and all of the yard, trackwork up to the old loco and SACBH terminal, etc. is all BG and that came from Balaklava I think which has no rails in place any more through Pt Wakefield to Kadina. I don't know if BG grain exporting happened much there in the pre-SG mainline days.
The idea of GWA getting into pass trains since GSR's sale popped up gets plenty of interest but I just can't see GWA taking GSR on as whole as, unlike with integrating Freightlink, merging a pass train operating company with a freight-focused operating company doesn't seem like it'd be a good combination. It's not like the pre-devolution days where freight and pass were run as subsided government entities and could operate some parts at a loss and commercially profitable working wasn't always the norm.
But having said that, with the Ghan and IP being full cost recovery trains, that's something that would maybe become attractive to a profit-making arm of a US-owned rail freight company.
Lots of what-if's but it's quite possible the EP working + Freightlink are enough 'core' business now with Viterra as 'icing'.