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Friday, December 09, 2005

Giant trucks fear on roads

The Mercury: Giant trucks fear on roads [10dec05]

TASMANIANS face the prospect of monster road trains thundering up and down the Midlands and Bass highways between Hobart, Launceston, Bell Bay and Burnie if all rail services are permanently axed next week.

Major paper manufacturer Norske Skog has warned it will be forced to use the triple-length trucks to ship paper from its Boyer mill at New Norfolk to Burnie and Bell Bay ports economically.

Such massive road trains are used in outback Australia but are banned in Tasmania, Victoria and most of NSW.

The 60m length of the B-Triple trucks, their vast weight and the long time it takes for them to stop are considered too dangerous for Tasmania's roads.

If the Tasmanian Government approved their use by Norske Skog in the absence of any rail freight alternative, it would require a change in transport laws.

For safety reasons, the Midlands Highway might also have to be upgraded to a four-lane highway, at an estimated cost of more than $200 million, to accommodate the giant transports.

"Where's the economics in that?," argues Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Damon Thomas.

"Why spend hundreds of millions of dollars building new highways to cope with huge trucks on the road that are only there because $78 million couldn't be found to fix the existing rail network."

The future of rail transport in Tasmania, and the 200 workers employed on the railways, remain uncertain.

The board of sole remaining train operator Pacific National is set to call a halt to all trains on Tuesday unless the State and Federal Governments can find an estimated $118 million over 10 years to upgrade and maintain the 800km rail network.

However, both the State and Federal Government are expected to make announcements on Monday on the moribund rail system.

Norske Skog Boyer mill manager Ernie Hacker said yesterday that without rail transport, his company would have to use the banned B-Triple road trains for the giant Boyer mill to stay economically viable.

The paper company relies almost exclusively on rail transport to ship 200,000 tonnes a year of Fingal Valley coal, chemicals and logs into its New Norfolk mill.

All of the 300,000 tonnes of newsprint paper rolls produced at the mill are transported by rail to meet ships to the mainland at Bell Bay and Burnie.

"If rail ceases it will have a huge detrimental effect on the Boyer mill from a cost point of view," Mr Hacker said.

The Freight Logistics Council of Tasmania has estimated that to make up for the amount of freight carried by rail, there will be 2000 extra truck movements every week on state roads.

Chief executive Jim McCormack said Norske Skog's Boyer mill and the Zinifex works in Hobart were by far the biggest users of rail freight in the state.

While Zinifex would not comment publicly yesterday on the issue, it is understood the economic viability of the zinc works, which exports all of its specialist processed zinc by rail from Hobart north, would be greatly affected by a loss of rail.

Infrastructure Minister Bryan Green said yesterday the Government recognised the potential impacts on roads if the railway system was closed.

However, Mr Green said there has been no formal approach to the State Government by Norske Skog or any other company for the use of bigger road freight configurations than are presently permitted.


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