GRAIN supplier Viterra Australia and freight operator Aurizon have submitted a formal application to the Australian federal government seeking $A 220m ($US 148.4m) in funding to upgrade and reopen 393 route-km of lines on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. 

The isolated 1067mm-gauge network, primarily used for grain haulage, was controversially abandoned in May 2019 when Viterra and then rail operator Genesee & Wyoming Australia could not agree on terms for upgrades and freight rates.

Under the proposal, funding would be used to upgrade the track from Port Lincoln to Cummins and branches through to Kimba and Wudinna to allow for increased axleloads and higher speeds.

“Partnering with Aurizon and the South Australian and federal governments to fund an upgraded rail system on the Eyre Peninsula would create significant economic, social and environmental benefits,” says Viterra Australia chief operations officer, Mr James Murray. “The project will also provide reductions in freight costs, which Viterra passes back to growers.”

Viterra has said if the application for funding is successful it will invest in infrastructure and capacity upgrades at its inland storage sites, as well as at the export terminal in Port Lincoln, supporting the reintroduction of rail in the region by reducing turnaround times and increasing capacity. 

Aurizon would maintain the line once upgraded, and invest in the rolling stock fleet to meet Viterra’s commitment to move at least 1.3 million tonnes of grain annually on the network, almost double that carried during the last year of operation.

“Aurizon is the nation’s largest hauler of grain,” says Aurizon’s general manager, Bulk Central, Mr Matt Jones. “We see a great opportunity to work with Viterra and provide efficient and reliable supply chain operations for grain producers and to get grain back on rail on the Eyre Peninsula.”

At this stage neither state or federal government have made any official comment on the proposal, nor indicated that funding might be forthcoming, though Viterra and Aurizon have held several meetings with government representatives to promote their case.