Australia’s biggest grain handler CBH Group has revealed plans to buy seven new locomotives from global train-building company Progress Rail, marking its biggest fleet upgrade since first delving into rolling stock in 2010. In September Countryman revealed CBH had launched a competitive request for proposal with “multiple train companies” to buy new locomotives to bolster and replace its existing fleet. CBH invested $175 million in its first-ever fleet of 22 locomotives and 574 wagons in 2010, with the first load of grain on a CBH train rolling out of Merredin two years later in April 2012. CBH chief executive Ben Macnamara said the seven new locomotives would be operational by November 2024 and were just the first in a plan to expand the existing train sets to boost how quickly grain could get to port. He said there were two more request for proposal processes under way, with new narrow-gauge locomotives and wagon contracts expected to be announced in the second quarter of 2023. “We are pleased to partner with Progress Rail to acquire new standard gauge locomotives,” Mr Macnamara said. “It is the first significant rail fleet investment CBH has made since purchasing 25 locomotives and 572 wagons in 2012 (when the trains were put to use in WA). “Our rail fleet is a key asset for the co-operative and expanding our existing train sets is a strategic priority that is critical to lift our monthly export capacity to three million tonnes by 2033 or sooner. “By investing in our supply chain network, and in particular our outloading capacity, we are ensuring we can deliver tonnes to customers when needed and therefore returning value to WA growers.” The seven locomotives will more than double the co-operative’s standard gauge fleet, which are able to use about a third of WA’s freight rail network — most of which operates with a 23 or 24-tonne axle load. The narrow gauge network spans about 2500km, and is a mix of 16, 19 and 21-tonne axle load. About 300km is dual gauge, meaning both standard gauge and narrow gauge locomotives can use it. Progress Rail senior vice-president Colin Kerelchuk said the company was excited CBH had selected Progress Rail for the expansion of its locomotive fleet. “We are committed to supporting the Australian rail industry through best-in-class products and services, and with more than 100 employees in Western Australia, we are ready to support the CBH team,” Mr Kerelchuk said. Aurizon took on CBH’s lucrative grain-on-rail contract for about $30m in August last year, just before the record 24.3Mt harvest. Aurizon provided three fleets — two narrow-gauge and one standard-gauge — to complement CBH’s 10 existing fleets, which have effectively been leased to Aurizon for management and driving. CBH recently leased an additional 10 locos from Aurizon as a bridging strategy before buying new trains.