THE CBH grain carting contract, which has been held by the Australian Railroad Group (ARG) for 70 years, has gone out to tender, leaving local train drivers concerned about their future.
ARG employs about 35 drivers at the Merredin yards, about 20 of whom are primarily employed for carting grain, so concern is growing about their fate if ARG loses the contract.
“ARG were previously on a 10-year contract with CBH and after that we received a one-year contract extension three times,” ARG’s group general manager Bulkwest Ken Potts said.
“But deregulation of the grain market has put pressure on CBH and they have put the contract out to tender for the harvest season of 2011/2012.”
CBH has broken the tender into three job contracts, each of which has a 10-year life.
With this life the contracts are highly desirable and it is understood there are a number of competitors.
One is the Australian company Pacific National which already operates on the east-west standard gauge line but it is believed interest is also being shown by companies from the United States, Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The loss of the contract could be a major blow for Merredin as there would be no guarantee that staff would retain their jobs or that the successful contractor would continue to use Merredin as a hub.
Mr Potts said ARG would be working at winning all three contracts, but even if they didn’t they would make every effort to retain their drivers.
“Drivers are very valuable and we want to protect our employees in Merredin, Northam and everywhere else,” he said.
Some ARG staff are also concerned about line closures and competition from road freight.
However Mr Potts remains confident about state government funding for rail lines.
“The state government recognises the need for the lines and there will be another round of funding soon,” he said.
The short-list for the tender is expected to be announced within a week, while the successful applicant is expected to be announced by the end of the year.
Meanwhile ARG will continue to hold the existing contract until the end of next year so nothing will change immediately.