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Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have joined other corporate heavyweights, including Bluescope, signalling they would not be able to use trucks to replace trains to ship their goods if a $200 million deal between freight giants Pacific National and Aurizon hampered access to rail services in Queensland.
The complicated deal will see Aurizon sell its terminal at Acacia Ridge in Brisbane, which transfers freight from road to rail and vice versa, to Pacific National.
Aurizon is pushing a sale of its facilityCREDIT:GLENN HUNT
The transaction has sparked a court challenge from the competition watchdog which argues it would give Pacific National an effective monopoly on the handling of rail freight into the north of Queensland which has to come off standard gauge tracks to the south and onto the narrow gauge North Coast Line.
In a twist since the deal was first announced, Aurizon has sold its loss-making intermodal businesses to Linfox in a move that was not opposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Pacific National has offered to guarantee Linfox, or any user, access to Acacia Ridge's facilities under the proposed sale which backers of the deal argue would mean there would be two competitors as there are now.
Sensitive affadavits released last week from the federal court case reveal companies including Coles, Woolworths, Metcash, Bluescope and meat processing giant JBS claim to rely on rail for certain freight on particular routes including in Queensland.
Bluescope flagged difficulties shipping steel.CREDITETER BRAIG
The affadavits from senior staff at the businesses are redacted to protect commercial information and stress the importance of rail as well as the unsuitability of alternatives including road and sea shipping for some tasks.
This is at odds with a key line of argument from Pacific National that freight customers could use other methods beyond rail to transport their goods around Queensland particularly the Far North if the deal was ruled to lessen competition.
Bluescope's evidence stops short of outright opposition to the proposed deal but stresses that Aurizon and Pacific National are the only two companies able to handle its rail freight and that shifting its product to road or sea is either impractical and costly or both.
Bluescope national manager processing and logistics Jeffrey Moore said the prospect of sending all Bluescope's product from its Port Kembla works to Brisbane by road did not make sense.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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