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Outback rail line back on track for artillery movement


The first large-scale movement of military equipment in many years along one of Australia’s major rail corridors begins today.

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More than 30 flat-top wagons loaded with military transports and artillery equipment left this morning on the 2700km journey from Darwin to Port Augusta.

The Defence contract has been awarded to Adelaide-based rail operator, Genesee & Wyoming Australia (GWA), which operates nearly 5000km of track in South Australia and the Northern Territory, including the 2200km Tarcoola‐to‐Darwin railway.

The military equipment has been assembled over recent days at GWA’s Berrimah rail yards outside of Darwin with loading and tie-down on to 31 wagons over the past 48 hours.

The train is expected to reach Port Augusta, about 300km northwest of the South Australian capital Adelaide, on Sunday morning.

Defence Personnel will then transport the equipment by truck to the Cultana Training Area, about 45km southwest of Port Augusta, where it will be used in military exercises into March.

GWA has about 600 employees, 90 locomotives and 1100 wagons and is an accredited rail‐service provider in all mainland Australian states and the Northern Territory. It has also been awarded the contract for the return journey of the equipment and transports to Darwin.

The 1420km rail line from Darwin to Alice Springs in Central Australia was completed in January 2004, connecting Australia’s north and south coasts by rail for the first time.

In 2004, the then new rail corridor transported more than 200 Defence vehicles, missile systems and radar equipment from Adelaide to Darwin in what was reported at the time as the largest rail consignment of military equipment in two decades. However, the rail line has not been used for this purpose for many years.

GWA Chief Executive Officer Luke Anderson said the company had worked hard with Defence to provide a strong logistics solution to support the return of the movement to rail.

He said it was “a great endorsement for rail, getting more trucks off our roads and lowering emissions”.

“It is an important project and hopefully the forerunner to further such opportunities between the Department of Defence (Australia) and GWA where the capability of rail to move large consignments safely and efficiently also meets the scope and challenges of Defence’s need to have nationwide secure transport and logistics expertise,” Anderson said.

Brigadier Andrew Freeman said the Australian Defence Force welcomed the opportunity to partner with GWA.

“The linkage and relationship between the Defence Force and industry continues to grow and strengthen and the exercising of this rail capability is an excellent example of how we can work together,” he said.

The Cultana Training Area was expanded five-fold in 2014 to 2100sq km of rugged country suitable for land and shoreline operations and includes the former Baxter detention centre. The Australian Army site is among the Defence Force’s largest training area and one of only two areas in Australia able to support joint and combined training exercises.

GWA provides intermodal service six days per week on the Adelaide‐to‐Darwin corridor as well as intrastate haulage of bulk commodities including grain, steel and minerals, and operates a coal haulage service under contract in New South Wales transporting approximately 40 million tonnes annually.

Great Southern Rail operates its passenger rail service along the corridor twice a week.

According to the Australasia Railway Corporation, more than 15 million tonnes of general freight and bulk materials have been carried on the Adelaide to Darwin railway since it opened in 2004, representing about 82 per cent of contestable freight on the corridor.

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