Australasia's home for timber news and information

Goulburn rail hub looks for opportunities on the back of forestry

Operators of the Goulburn rail hub are investigating opportunities to expand the facility. Whether that’s at the existing Braidwood Road/Sloane Street location or elsewhere around Goulburn is still up in the air, says Chicago Freight Car Leasing Australia (CFCLA) managing director, Ian Gibbs. Source: Goulburn Post

The hub, which won approval in December, 2015, transports treated timber logs and other products to port for companies. Currently it’s running two trains a week of treated timber and scrap metal. Transporter Crawford Freight Lines is also returning from port with imported goods for Canberra and other locations.

Mr Gibbs said he’d like to see more trains running but the site was constrained.

“It’s a small area and we don’t want it over-congested,” he said. “Whether there’s an area we can have as a terminal for empty containers, with a siding, is something we’re looking at but there are not many suitable spots north and south of the hub for expansion.”

Mr Gibbs said CFCLA had looked at a “higher level” site for a rail hub around Goulburn and there could be others. But he told The Post it would need the support of operators and the community.

He believed there was extra freight capacity on the line. However, it required a rail operator to find more customers and containers to carry bulk materials for export to port.

“We are looking at the aggregates industry quite closely and whether there’s an opportunity to support Badgerys Creek with the airport and massive expansion in that part of Sydney,” Mr Gibbs said.

“Boral is saying they don’t have enough cement to support all that construction so how can they supply it if they’re running out for the Sydney market?”

Asked whether more quarry companies in this area should be utilising rail, Mr Gibbs said they needed to do so given the large number of truck accidents on the Hume Highway. While there was a political push in this direction, companies had to be convinced it was economical and competitive.

CFCLA is talking to ARTC about use of the inland rail and actively engaging quarry companies about transporting material.

The company is also upgrading the local facility with a new entry and crossing.

Whether expansion went ahead or not, Mr Gibbs said his company had proven a container terminal could operate effectively and efficiently with two trains a week.

Timber bolsters rail hub

Meantime, International Primary Products continues to shift 100,000 tonnes of timber from the yard, where it’s treated with methyl bromide. The facility is approved to handle 135,000 tonnes annually.

Director Phil Jeune said logs were trucked in from Canberra, Oberon, Jerangle, Tumut, Mittagong and other forestry areas.

“It’s not as easy as in New Zealand because there’s not as much forestry going on,” he said.

“It will take time (to build up) but it is viable and the growers are getting more than used to us.”

Mr Jeune said his company could “hit the forests harder” but it preferred not to, ensuring the resource was sustainable. He expected strong volumes over the next eight years and a decline until trees matured again. In Goulburn the operation directly employs 11 people.

Eighty per cent of the logs are exported to China and 20% to India for industrial use. The product occupies most of the two trains running weekly out of Goulburn but operator, Crawford Freight Lines, also loads some of the containers with scrap metal from Canberra.

Without this, Mr Jeune admitted his company would be struggling to fill the two trains.

“We could source more timber but we’d have to go further afield … The best solution is that we occupy part of the train so we don’t have to push so hard to get that last one of the month filled,” he said.

Bark from the logs is sent to Yass for use in compost and mulch.

In December, IPP “parted ways” with Qube Logistics, which was hauling the logs to port. Mr Jeune said Qube had become much busier with the wheat harvest and couldn’t service his company in the same way. But the two parties did not have a formal contract, simply an agreement, and Mr Jeune said Qube did what any company would do in the circumstances.

But since then the demand for export wheat had fallen, forcing Qube to cut back trains running through Goulburn. Last week it also called for expressions of interest in six voluntary redundancies at its local depot.

Crawford Freight Lines has since taken over the timber haulage work. Business development manager Andrew Ray said it was a small family-owned company and while it would never turn away workers with “good skills and attitude,” he couldn’t guarantee employment for these workers.

“The operation in Goulburn is in its infancy,” he said. “Certainly we are trying to offer a service for Goulburn and the region and to give people the option of rail over road but there must be economies of scale in it to convince them.

“We feel Goulburn has great opportunities for the future but we’re not quite there yet.”

Mr Ray said Crawford was exploring other freight opportunities in the region and it was in everyone’s interests to get trucks off the road.