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MOUNT ISA MP Rob Katter has delivered a blistering attack on the State Government’s management of the Mount Isa to Townsville rail line.
Mr Katter said the North’s freight carrying “engine room”, responsible for hauling millions of tonnes of ore from Mount Isa to Townsville, was a “broken system that may as well be ripped up”.
He said the rail line which should be carrying all mining freight from the North-West Minerals Province to Townsville was not working and that miners were putting their ore and other cargo on to trucks.
He said that because of the poor line maintenance, trains were forced to travel at speeds of 20km/h in many areas.
He said slow trains meant there were bottlenecks at Townsville where an eastern rail corridor to the port needed to be constructed.
“Because of all these problems, demand for space on wagons has fallen off. Mining companies know they are wasting their time trying to deal with the Queensland Government when it comes to the Mount Isa to Townsville rail line,” Mr Katter said.
“We’ve got a mining industry out here wanting to go full steam ahead. It’s frustrating watching them putting ore on to trucks that should be going by train.”
Mr Katter said people who once worked on the line and who used to drive trains tell him locomotives used to travel at 80km/h pulling wagons.
“You ask them why they can’t do it now and they say it is because there are no fettlers constantly working the line. There is no maintenance. The tracks used to run straight and true when the fettlers were there, but not any more. Those maintenance crews don’t exist any more. Now you have contractors coming in doing spot repair work,” he said.
Mr Katter said temporary slowdown signs for train crews on the line in many areas had become permanent fixtures. “They pass the costs (of any maintenance) on up here to the customer, but in Brisbane when work is done on commuter lines the ticket prices don’t go up,” he said.
“We’ve got a situation now where more than 400,000 tonnes of freight that should have gone to Townsville by rail has already gone on trucks travelling on the Flinders Highway.”
Mr Katter said mining company executives were telling him that they had given up trying to “work anything out” with the State Government.
“They just tell me that they are going to put their ore on the road,” he said.
Mr Katter said this was despite the fact that rail was half the price of trucks when it came to hauling freight.
He said if the Government would not upgrade the line it should just rip it up and be done with it and let the Northern Territory build a track from the border to Tennant Creek. He said the Northern Territory option, that would see freight railed to the Darwin port, was a reality and that if it ever happened North Queensland would suffer economic consequences on an epic scale.
“The rail system up here as we know it between Mount Isa and Townsville is going backwards,” he said.
This article first appeared on www.townsvillebulletin.com.au
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