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Livestock transport operators were left bemused by the announcement on Friday morning that the state government was injecting $946,000 into the Yeppoon branch rail line to reinstate a disused section and connect it to the Rockhampton JBS abattoir.
Transport Minister Mark Bailey was the keynote speaker at the Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Queensland conference at Rockhampton when he made the announcement before some of the state's largest trucking industry representatives.
The original announcement of $4.1m for the project was made by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk during Beef Week last May, saying it was an election commitment made in the lead-up to the 2017 state election.
After Mr Bailey left to front the media at the site of the rail project, the road transport forum highlighted a variety of access issues across the state, including type two road train access to Roma, type one access to Dinmore, and permit-free access to feedlots on the Darling Downs.
"(The Yeppoon branch line) certainly wasn't our priority," LRTAQ consultant Paul Blake said.
"We have pointed out to the Transport and Main Roads Department many areas of the state where bridges need work, roads need work, and $945,000 - it's not a lot of money in the scheme of things, really - it would provide a passing lane somewhere.
"It might mean that trucks can get safely off the road and allow cars to go past. That makes a huge difference in country areas."
The ALP Member for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke was much more enthusiastic about the announcement, saying it would deliver important supply chain improvements for the central Queensland beef industry by doubling the size of the rail siding at the abattoir.
“By restoring this 1.9-kilometre section, we’re providing the local beef industry with a direct rail connection to the JBS abattoir, which is safer, more efficient and more reliable than road freight options that can wear down local roads,” Mr O’Rourke said.
The project, set to be commissioned in July, has already begun, with remediation of two of the four timber rail bridges on the section of the line.
Mr Bailey said it was a huge task that involved significant piling works to provide solid foundations for the bridges, and the replacement of 16 steel girders and bridge piers.
“The third and fourth timber bridges on the disused section line have been demolished and removed, to be replaced with more durable concrete culverts sourced locally from Rockhampton.
“Installation of the culverts will happen in May, after which track work along the 1.9-kilometre section of the line can begin.
“This will include replacing and resurfacing the full length of track, which will take more than 2700 sleepers and 700 square metres of ballast.
“Finally, the rail siding at the abattoir will be reinstated."
Both Rockhampton Regional Council, where much of the abattoir workforce lives, and the Livingstone Shire Council, in which the operation is sited, were full of praise for the announcement.
A Livingstone Shire spokeswoman said the creation of new jobs once the project was complete provided the region with sustainable industry development.
"This level of investment reinforces major economic drivers for our region and provides efficiencies and growth to JBS abattoir," she said.
Rockhampton Regional Council infrastructure chairman Tony Williams said the news was fantastic for the local economy, and gave cattle producers another option to transport their cattle.
He said it followed federal-state funding that was allowing type one road trains access to both JBS and Teys abattoirs, reducing cross-loading, and showed both road and rail issues were being dealt with.
"It gives the abattoir the ability to source livestock from all parts of Queensland," he said. "There's no downside to the announcement that I can see - the rail line was there previously."
This article first appeared on www.queenslandcountrylife.com.au
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