12/12/2007 - 22:00

New timber freight plan

12/12/2007 - 22:00

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Moves by Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan to shift the timber industry to freighting its loads via rail rather than road have taken a new twist.

Moves by Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan to shift the timber industry to freighting its loads via rail rather than road have taken a new twist, with the Forest Industries Federation of WA labelling a new licensing scheme as a ‘Yes, Minister’ episode.

Ms MacTiernan this week revealed that a new licence would be introduced next year, aimed at curbing freight on heavy-haulage trucks between plantation sites and the Bunbury port.

Plantation companies have been trucking their loads via road because it is cheaper to do so.

Under the system being introduced by Ms MacTiernan, plantation companies will have to get a Commercial Goods Vehicle Licence to transport logs and woodchips to the Port of Bunbury, and licences will only be issued if rail is not a viable option.

There is currently no licence fee.

Yet according to the industry, rail services are not in operation because they are not viable.

And, that’s where Yes, Minister comes in, according to FIFWA executive director Bob Pearce.

“It’s just like the episode about the hospital with no patients,” Mr Pearce said.

“The minister has introduced regulations to force the timber industry to use rail, but there is no rail service to use.”

“Now she has introduced a permit system whereby timber trucks have to get her permission not to use the rail service which doesn’t exist.

“This doesn’t make sense.”

Mr Pearce said he was concerned that people might be misled by the minister and assume there would be less log and woodchip trucks on the road from January 1.

“There won’t,” he said. “There is no rail service, so nothing will change.”

WA Plantation Resources Pty Ltd general manager Ian Telfer said the new licensing system was a nuisance and he was hopeful the government and the industry could work together to help make the rail service a viable option for timber producers.

However, he flagged a “bun-fight” with the government if it moved to introduce licensing fees in a bid to make rail a more economically attractive option.

Mr Telfer said making rail a better economic option would involve increasing the volume of loads using the railway, which would require the support of industries other than the timber industry.

He said the rail network would need to freight about 750,000 tonnes a year, or about 30 per cent more than the timber industry’s current capacity.

Mr Telfer said WA Plantations had been the sole customer on the rail network but switched to trucks in 2005 because it was more economical.

Mr Pearce said it had been impossible to find a viable solution without getting other heavy haulage road users involved.

“They are all happily continuing to use the road system with the government’s blessing,” Mr Pearce said.

“Anyone involved in transport could tell you that it is very difficult to make rail work with only one customer hauling one way,” he said.

“What is needed is multiple customers and backloading.”

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