I really don't want to be a wet blanket on this because I think the line to Mareeba has future freight potential, but ultimately I don't see any rail freight operator buying purpose specific rollingstock to move containers another 74km beyond an existing large intermodal hub (Cairns). Rail operators these days like simple and cheap solutions...complicated and expensive solutions are the things governments spend twenty years doing reports and studies on. That is not to say the Mareeba line upgrades have to be expensive or complicated. At the moment the Toowoomba line's ten tunnels are being upgraded for maxicube containers for just $17-million...and that's after nearly forty years of government planning for a billion dollar super tunnel to achieve the same outcome.
For the moment Cairns and Innisfail works for PN and Aurizon...if these companies make a play for all of the long distance banana business, they'll be doing so pushing for those existing hubs to be used. If the banana industry wants to contain the potential spread of panama via long distance B-doubles it will have to go along with what the rail operators can reasonably offer. With four highways to the coast (including two to Cairns and one to Innsfail), for the moment Mareeba will remain a hub too far.
On the Bruce Highway between Mackay and Townsville last night in a five hour period I passed around fifty refrigerated semis and b-doubles heading south with bananas, including six in one convoy, and passed PNQ's 87P2 ex-Cairns with around fifteen maxicube reefers carrying bananas among the consist. The intermodal potential is pretty big, so who knows what might happen eventually.