THE longest train to haul wheat to port set off out of Narrabri earlier this week, headed for Newcastle.
Carrying 5000 tonnes of wheat in 73 wagons and stretching for 1.3 kilometres it pulled in to the Port of Newcastle on Wednesday night, its cargo bound for South East Asia.
The five-loco train was loaded in Moree and Narrabri, bound for Newcastle Agri Terminal – the collection of five metal silos facing the main southern arm of the Hunter River at the end of Cowper Street, Carrington.
Longer trains deliver bigger loads and squeeze more value from the scant rail slots available on the coal-laden Hunter Valley line.
Grain merchant Louis Dreyfus, part owner of Newcastle Agri Terminal (NAT), supplied the wheat.
It was sourced from Moree and Narrabri, the motherload being consolidated at Narrabri before being hauled into port by Southern Shorthaul Rail’s locomotives.
NAT executive director Jock Carter, who two years ago opened Australia’s first grain export facility for 20 years, kick started the project.
It would likely be a one-off this year to demonstrate the potential to the grain industry, but he hoped to make it the norm in the future.
He said it was culmination of six years of effort.
Mr Carter said a train of this size brought a three-fold increase in network capacity at no extra cost.
“Bigger trains means increased efficiency and lower costs, which equals better returns for growers,” Mr Carter said.
“It also frees up capacity for other users of the rail network.”
Approval was sought for a 2.5 tonne per axle load increase for the up country track which saved growers $1.30/t – welcome relief for farmers, given 30 to 40 per cent of the value of a tonne of grain is consumed by freight costs.
“We’re trying to get the government to upgrade the track to 25t (per axle) (it is currently 20.2t-20.8t),” he said.
“It would give a 20t increase per wagon.”
He said this proved there was no reason why operators couldn’t amalgamate trains at Narrabri and run them like a coal train.
“This gets more payload through in one slot,” he said, explaining the potential existed to hit a 7000t payload.
Australian Rail Track Authority (ARTC) also drove the initiative, its chief of Hunter Valley operations Jonathan Vandervoort having said the rail operator wanted to demonstrate the potential in the grain supply chain.
?Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss said the improved rail network and longer trains could save growers “a massive” $5 to $10 a tonne in freight costs.
He said Wednesday’s train was the first of a series of wheat cargos to the terminal using trains from a small rail company, Southern Shorthaul Railroad.
A cargo ship, the Glorious Splendour, was due in Newcastle on December 20 to take 18,000 tonnes of wheat to New Guinea.
A second ship would take the rest of the cargo to China.