CBH keen to swap

Claire TyrrellCountryman

CBH wants to shift as soon as possible to new rail carrier Watco as a result of claims of poor performance by current provider QR National.

CBH's contract with the Australian Railroad Group subsidiary ends on April 30 and CBH is due to start using Watco trains on May 1.

"We are ready and willing to get onto the network as soon as we can," CBH road and rail contracts manager Andrew Mencshelyi said.

He added there had been significant extra costs associated with QR National's poor performance at harvest because a lack of train drivers forced an extra 100 trucks on the road each day.

Mr Mencshelyi could not confirm a date for when CBH would start running Watco trains on the lines but it would hopefully be "in the next few weeks".

CBH leased four locomotives to use on WA lines until its new locomotives arrive in July.

Mr Mencshelyi said leasing locomotives was always part of CBH's transition plan from QR National to Watco.

He said CBH would use Watco and QR National trains simultaneously until QR National's contract expired.

Speaking at last week's crop updates, CBH general manager operations Colin Tutt said rail freight was a weak point of the 2011-12 harvest.

"We have had inadequate rail transport performance - we are running at 61 per cent performance for the coast," he said.

"We bought 10 trains from QR - we run six trains a day but pay for 10.

"It is all part of the transition and us telling QR that we don't want to head into the future with them. This is the price we pay for that change."

QR National cited a lack of staff for not being able to run all of its grain trains.

According to CBH, many of QR National's train drivers applied for sick or annual leave at the same time, resulting in a lack of drivers at harvest.

Last year QR National's drivers went on strike, which frustrated grain cartage throughout the State.

Mr Mencshelyi said CBH would be looking closely at QR National's contractual obligations.

"We are pursuing the terms and conditions and performance requirements of that contract," he said.

CBH would quantify the financial impact of QR National's on-track performance in the next few months.

"We have had a drop in performance over the last five years of 30 per cent and a price increase of 40 per cent in the same period," Mr Mencshelyi said.

"We knew we would see a drop in performance from QR near the end of their contract but we didn't think it would be this early or this severe."

A QR National spokesman said the company was working to deliver the best service to CBH.

"QR National's freight business remains committed to the grain industry in WA and we will continue to work with our customers to offer the best available service," he said.

QR National would not comment on its contractual obligations with CBH.

CBH invested in $175 million worth of new rolling stock which will be used under Watco's 10-year contract.

The grain handler last week tested the first of its new wagons on a standard gauge line from Kwinana. Tests were successful and CBH is waiting on wagon accreditation to get on the lines.

It also introduced a new scanning system for trains on Tuesday, whereby handheld scanning devices replace information cards on the side of each wagon.

The new devices, which transmit information about wagon loads to CBH's central office, reduce manual labour and increase safety.

Delivery of CBH's new wagons and locomotives is expected to be complete by July.

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