GWA business contractions and changes in SA/NT operations

 
  craigd Deputy Commissioner

Location: A Thinktank near you
Hearing a lot of tales of redundancies in rail operations ranks at GWA following the handing over of the crewing of SCT's trains, reduction of the Penrice working, stopping of the Territory Iron trains in NT, etc. and haven't seen it talked about much.

I know that when I worked for GWA in 2008/9/10 there were three full rosters going - one for local/grain, one for Darwin, one for Perth.

The entire Perth working effectively got handed over to SCT itself at the end of last year.

Darwin depot would have been affected by the ceasing of the Union Reef iron ore trains, as that was a fair chunk of that depot's local working.

One other major part of GWA's operations is the Whyalla steelworks rail services (much like PN at Port Kembla), and the steel business in Australia hasn't been on a rock solid footing for many years now since BHP shut down the steelworks at Newcastle, and subsequently part of Pt Kembla was shut down as well.

Another phase of change in the Aussie rail industry, particularly with SA/NT operations. Biggest one perhaps since AN was split up and sold in the 1990's.

Craig.

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  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
You could be right.  

As we have seen with Australia rail companies, the low hanging fruit (the easy bulk stuff) is worked hard until that dries up and the bulk of the available freight which is now on road is no longer available for rail.  Your business shrinks considerably.

Was crewing SCT services core business for GWA?
  freightgate Minister for Railways

Location: Albury, New South Wales
Crewing other operators trains should not be core business. Core business is moving freight on a network.

In assessing GWA an the performance of their management can I ask

What were their revenues 5 years ago compared to today ?

If you take out the inorganic growth being the central Australian line has their business grown or shrunk ?

Then look at the different types if business. Bulk intermodal etc.

My own view is they have been terribly managed.
  craigd Deputy Commissioner

Location: A Thinktank near you
GWA might have considered it as core business as it was a large segment of their working. An entire rosted was devoted to it. When I worked there the contract got renewed to crew SCT's PM/MP and PG/GP services. They were already deeply embedded in the Freightlink working and were doing train control for the railway north of Northgate BP near Tarcoola already when I started with the company in late 2008.

When SCT started up their ore trains for IMX Resources under the SBR and RailPro banners (SBR for the trains, Railpro for the crewing), it was only a matter of time before either SCT put forward a proposal to take over crewing all their other trains, and/or GWA wouldn't renew again. Building their new freight terminal around the Virginia/Direk area showed that was coming. It's a much bigger facility than their old one near Kilburn.

As we've seen, SCT didn't take all their own work back as Momentum were trying to recruit crews for the running between Parkes and Pt Augusta, with SCT doing everything else now 'in house'. I don't have any info on whether Momentum were actually able to find people qualified for that entire route block. SCT probably figured out that particulary segment would be the most expensive crewing-wise since they cannot run relay-worked trains into NSW (yet).

Freightlink is now probably GWA's 'core' core business focus, as they acquired the whole company including the long-term lease of the corridor from Northgate BP near Tarcoola to Berrimah terminal in Darwin. Now they also operate Alice Springs and Berrimah terminals directly (PN were running both until a couple of yrs ago), they're managing the entire operation in NT including the infrastructure and both of the main terminals. $334 million wouldn't have been spent acquiring Freightlink without planning on it being a long term investment.

They still have the Viterra grain contract, and the Whyalla steelworks rail operations, plus the Eyre Peninsula trains. EP working has a mix of grain and some minerals I think. Unless Viterra didn't want to keep the relationship with GWA it's unlikely that would go to another operator due to the legacy issues with the non-ARTC SG (and mostly closed BG) branch lines in GWA's long term 50 + 15 yr lease. GWA still run to Tookayerta near Loxton, and Pinnaroo I think. There's been no BG grain haulage off the former Peterborough line through Riverton where I use to live or other connecting BG lines (Roseworthy to Kapunda, Hamley Bridge to Balaklava) since about 2007.

That corridor lease started in I think 1997 when the original GWRR + Wesfarmers alliance was set up so the initial 50 yr term is good until 2047 unless the lines are deemed no longer required and handed back to the SA govt. Assuming that's possible under the terms of the lease agreement.

Craig.
  freightgate Minister for Railways

Location: Albury, New South Wales
Maybe another way to describe the SCT business was it was opportunistic.

What further business did GWA develop on the back of those crewing arrangements ?  It would have been the perfect time to do it when they had a presence in those locations.

If you take out freight link from the business when based on your appraisal GWA have lost business rather than gained it.

What ever became of their NSW to SA business ?
  YM-Mundrabilla Minister for Railways

Location: Mundrabilla but I'd rather be in Narvik
Crewing other operators trains should not be core business. Core business is moving freight on a network.

In assessing GWA an the performance of their management can I ask

What were their revenues 5 years ago compared to today ?

If you take out the inorganic growth being the central Australian line has their business grown or shrunk ?

Then look at the different types if business. Bulk intermodal etc.

My own view is they have been terribly managed.
freightgate
They are a monopoly and they act like one.............
  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Can I ask a question.

How is freight link through traffic handled from Adelaide to other states (not the NT)?  With GWA not running trains into Victoria as far and Melbourne who conveys the loading into Adelaide for Darwin and reverse?
  craigd Deputy Commissioner

Location: A Thinktank near you
Maybe another way to describe the SCT business was it was opportunistic.

What further business did GWA develop on the back of those crewing arrangements ?  It would have been the perfect time to do it when they had a presence in those locations.

If you take out freight link from the business when based on your appraisal GWA have lost business rather than gained it.

What ever became of their NSW to SA business ?
freightgate
There was no NSW/SA business when I was with GWA except for the crewing of SCT's PG/GP trains which was not relay working between Coonamia and Goobang JCT (later that shifted to the crew van and extra Adelaide loading getting added/removed at Spencer JCT). I think they may have had some in the early years before the split-up in about 2006/7. I remember there being AS/SA jobs very early on.

It's true that if Freightlink is discounted, GWA becomes a much smaller operator with only the Eyre Peninsula narrow gauge, Viterra grain and Whyalla steelworks as underpinning working. Penrice was probably never a big thing and really just a legacy contract left over from the SAR/AN days. But it was good bread and butter work for Adelaide (Dry Creek) crews as it ran 6 days a week until not that long ago. Low contract margins though.

Again, that's why I think they've decided to focus on integration of Freightlink and make that the core business platform, with the rest being supplemental. Especially seeing that GWA does the 'entire package' of freight management, train control, train operation and crewing, and now all the infrastructure maintenance plus terminal operations as Alice Springs and Berrimah.

Whether this is likely to mean that GWA might be interested in GSR when Serco puts it up for sale remains to be seen, though it's often been talked about that GWA has showed interest in replacing PN for crewing the Ghan (since it runs mostly on GWA-controlled track acquired as part of getting Freightlink). Not sure if that would mean GWA does a full hook-and-pull agreement like PN has with GSR.

Craig.
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
Wouldn't that represent Genesee & Wyoming's first ever foray into passenger services any-where at all? It's a big step, even if it is just inhousing the hook-and-pull contract and keeping the rest of GSR as a going concern.
  freightgate Minister for Railways

Location: Albury, New South Wales
Another way to look at GWA moving to run Te Ghan and overland is one of concern.

GWA have not really expanded their business over along period. They have lost business outside of the freight link acquisition.

Running these icon services I believe would lead to these also being made a mess of and I lack any confidence GWA een know how to run a railway and certainly not a passenger service.

Of they Re keen then start running a passenger service between Adelaide and port Augusta as a starting point.
  craigd Deputy Commissioner

Location: A Thinktank near you
I think it's correct that GWRR (the parent company) doesn't have anything to do with pass services elsewhere in the world.

Pass service between Pt Augusta and Adelaide is a completely different issue to the GSR services that GWA might be in the market to take over. The Ghan is the only one realistically that could possibly be acquired but if GSR is sold as a single block, that wouldn't be viable.

The only reason I could see where it might benefit GWA is that with the loss of SCT work and reductions in Darwin, lots of the trainee drivers that GWA hired over the last 12 to 18 months are getting to the point where there's no work available to keep their training and development going. But that is not enough of a reason on it's own to take over a passenger operation, even if did provide more work to train crews.

I suspect GWA has always kept an eye on the hook and pull side of things with the Ghan especially, but not being a 'national' operator like PN, there isn't the resource base in place to do the entire hook-and-pull for GSR's trains at present.

GWRR (and GWA the Aussie subsidiary) are freight-focused businesses. Pass train operations in the post-gov-ownership of non-commuter rail require a different and dedicated approach due to the requirement to be better than 100 pct cost-recovery (ie. cash-positive) operations enough of the time to remain viable. Freight is, by and large, always cash-positive or an operator will not do it.
  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
The only reason I could see where it might benefit GWA is that with the loss of SCT work and reductions in Darwin, lots of the trainee drivers that GWA hired over the last 12 to 18 months are getting to the point where there's no work available to keep their training and development going. But that is not enough of a reason on it's own to take over a passenger operation, even if did provide more work to train crews.
craigd

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?
  freightgate Minister for Railways

Location: Albury, New South Wales
My point is with no experience in running a passenger operation (I believe many qualified staff would move across but you never know) starting smaller would be a better idea fr GWA.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

I'm no sure G&W really deserves a public pummelling for poor management...the loss of the iron ore traffic and Penrice were both the result of global pressures far beyond the control of a single rail company. Add to that they're in a difficult working relationship with Viterra whose owner - Glencore - has intimated they would prefer to run their own trains on G&W's exclusive franchise network. G&W's intermodal market in the Northern Territory is the smallest market in the country and the company already controls the majority freight moving into the Northern Territory giving little room for growth. The interstate markets to Perth and Melbourne already have three operators with little likelihood of room for a fourth. The Adelaide to Sydney market may be the only intermodal market under exploited at the moment...but then how much freight is actually on offer between South Australia (the third smallest economic region in the country) and Sydney - a consumption city now largely bereft of rail friendly industries? The way I see it, G&W is in a tough spot produced mostly by globalised trade and geography rather than mismanagement.
  Pressman Spirit of the Vine

Location: Wherever the Tin Chook or Qantas takes me
I'm no sure G&W really deserves a public pummelling for poor management...the loss of the iron ore traffic and Penrice were both the result of global pressures far beyond the control of a single rail company. Add to that they're in a difficult working relationship with Viterra whose owner - Glencore - has intimated they would prefer to run their own trains on G&W's exclusive franchise network. G&W's intermodal market in the Northern Territory is the smallest market in the country and the company already controls the majority freight moving into the Northern Territory giving little room for growth. The interstate markets to Perth and Melbourne already have three operators with little likelihood of room for a fourth. The Adelaide to Sydney market may be the only intermodal market under exploited at the moment...but then how much freight is actually on offer between South Australia (the third smallest economic region in the country) and Sydney - a consumption city now largely bereft of rail friendly industries? The way I see it, G&W is in a tough spot produced mostly by globalised trade and geography rather than mismanagement.
Sulla1
After driving from Melbonk to Adelaide this morning, I saw what could be a disturbing sight for Rail Freight. We should all be aware that "market share" is a major factor in Interstate freight.
The Western Highway is currently being upgraded to Dual carriageway Motorway standard between Ballarat and just short of Ararat.
With the resultant upgrade of speed limit to 110kph.
Whilst higher speed limits will not effect trucks, the dual carriageway with easing of grades will mean shorter travel time for road transport, in a corridor that is already line ball on market share between road and rail.
This "speeding up" of road transport is not good for the existing rail operators on the Adelaide - Melbourne and the Western Victoria intrastate rail freight corridor.
  Onelongwhistle Junior Train Controller

Adelaide to Sydney traffic is a no go. PN couldn't keep BA6/AB6 going and QR has only run a few AS1 trains.
But further to the GWA business changes have been told they are going to go for up for up to 70 redundancies.
A fair few drivers spare very shortly I think, just a pity not many places for them to go.
  Typhon Assistant Commissioner

Location: I'm that freight train tearing through the sky in the clouds.
Adelaide to Sydney traffic is a no go. PN couldn't keep BA6/AB6 going
Onelongwhistle

News to me.
  craigd Deputy Commissioner

Location: A Thinktank near you
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'.
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
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.
craigd

Given the East Coast electricity market situation - wholesale electricity prices too low to attract new investment, gas prices about to soar, uncertainty over the LRET - it's 50-50 as to whether the Leigh Creek operation will continue past 2020. Its got a lot going for it but there's no scope for growth in coal haulage.

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.
craigd

Mount Gambier to Portland gauge conversion would've been great, but sadly the combination of cross-border railway politics and intense lobbying from very strong local trucking interests has put that one to bed. Lots of freight from the 'green triangle' though - 4.5mtpa of export woodchips.

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.
craigd
It's quite possible for GWA to keep GSR's core business activities as a separate unit and just change the hook-and-pull contract. Serco is selling GSR because of Serco's problems, not necessarily because GSR isn't making money.

As for new routes - with the state of rail freight in this country, your best bet is to wait for one of the state governments to sell off or lease an existing railway line.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Hmmmm...depending on how the Queensland election pans out the Mt Isa line will be coming up for lease this year (with the expectation it will be open access and the Townsville Port will be part of the deal). Not sure it will be really down G&W's alley.
  Nightfire Minister for Railways

Location: Gippsland

The Western Highway is currently being upgraded to Dual carriageway Motorway standard between Ballarat and just short of Ararat.
With the resultant upgrade of speed limit to 110kph.
Whilst higher speed limits will not effect trucks, the dual carriageway with easing of grades will mean shorter travel time for road transport.
Pressman
My understanding Is the Western Highway between Burrumbeet and Stawell Is been upgraded to a dual carriageway highway (not Motorway) with NO grade separated Intersections or town bypasses, speed limit to remain at 100 km/h.
(same thing for Traralgon - Sale and Warn Ponds - Colac highway duplication)

Don't know about grade easing ? VicRoads have a habit of Increasing grades on new highway works and heaps of round abouts !

The project Is mostly safety related, reducing traffic collisions.
  ParkesHub Chief Commissioner
  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Mount Gambier to Portland gauge conversion would've been great, but sadly the combination of cross-border railway politics and intense lobbying from very strong local trucking interests has put that one to bed. Lots of freight from the 'green triangle' though - 4.5mtpa of export woodchips.
LancedDendrite

In a meeting I had with Patrick Conlon's advisor in September 2012 I was advised the South Australian Government offered an operator $10m to assist in the gauge conversion of the line to Mount Gambier.  I am also aware of El Zorro having interest on that line from Heywood.

GWA were completely remiss in my view not investing and establishing a long term business (bulk and Intermodal) out of the South East.  The business was there as I met wit the players.  There is still business there.  This in my view vindicates the comments made on this site over a long period of time.  Australian Rail operators are not investors and are not sure now to develop new markets.  They are more interested in winning business off other rail competitors rather than winning new business from road or from clients developing their own business.

GWA either did not know how to develop the business a rail operator should know how to do or were not interested.  There was $10m on the table.

Not sure what role ARTC could have played or could play.
  62440 Chief Commissioner

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.

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.

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.
craigd
There is an active rail tanker loading facility in Port Adelaide which could serve any reinstated terminals.
Wallaroo was served by two lines, from Bowmans/ Balaklava and from Snowtown. The Snowtown line was DG with the BG going to Brinkworth to meet the Gulnare line. The first couple of km of the Snowtown line are still in use. Bute to Wallaroo was leased to a heritage operation but the lease has been surrendered.
The new ore line shared the route to Bute and then turned off to an alignment north of Kadina. Snowtown to Bute would need total track reconstruction to 23 tal. I can't see any iron ore projects justifying a new railway and port in the current climate. Other proposed mines in the Braemar are looking at slurry line and floating barge loading.
  bevans Site Admin

Location: Melbourne, Australia

The new ore line shared the route to Bute and then turned off to an alignment north of Kadina. Snowtown to Bute would need total track reconstruction to 23 tal. I can't see any iron ore projects justifying a new railway and port in the current climate. Other proposed mines in the Braemar are looking at slurry line and floating barge loading.
62440

What is the closest rail line to the proposed Braemar development?  The attached image from http://braemarinfrastructure.com/the-project is not quite complete.



Was the plan to use the line to Wallaroo?  Why did this change?

With Iron Ore prices the way they are and likely to be for a while, what makes this project viable?

is there a place at the table for GWA when it comes to railing ore out of Burra with a short branch to the mine?

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