21 April 2023

First trainload of timber arrives to support Snowy Region mills

| Edwina Mason
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Train carrying timber

Timber originally bound for export has been railed from Walcha and is now being milled in the NSW South West Slopes thanks to a bushfire recovery industry initiative. Image: Forestry Corporation.

A journey from the highlands of northern NSW has delivered a trainload of logs to the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, marking another significant breakthrough in the region’s recovery from the 2019-2021 Black Summer bushfires.

This week, after a series of delays, the first load of Walcha softwood sawlogs arrived by rail in Wagga bound for Snowy timber mills whose local supplies were significantly reduced after the bushfires destroyed more than 45,000 hectares of South West Slopes pine plantations.

The rail transport initiative will deliver around 270,000 tonnes of sawlog timber to processors Hyne Timber in Tumbarumba and Associated Kiln Driers Pty Ltd (ADK) in Tumut over the next three years.

Timber initially set for export, the impact of the Black Summer bushfires and local timber shortages have meant Australian timber mills were given priority, said Forestry Corporation’s sales and procurement manager Peter Stiles.

A minimum of 90,000 tonnes of softwood logs will be railed each year from Walcha to Wagga, and then trucked onto Tumbarumba and Tumut.

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There are 26,000 hectares of southern pine and radiata pine plantations in the Walcha and Grafton NSW Forestry Corporation management areas.

“Both Hyne and AKD are major regional employers who have had their locally supplied sawlog volumes significantly reduced after the bushfires, so we are very pleased this initiative supports their operations as well as ours,” Mr Stiles said.

Mr Stiles said sawlogs transported on each trip are of high structural quality and will provide a much-needed feedstock to keep up with the ongoing demand for housing in Australia.

Timber mill

After an 800-kilometre journey, Hyne’s Tumbarumba Mill received its first trainload of Walcha softwood sawlogs this week. Image: Hyne Timber.

Between 35 and 50 train trips per year are anticipated.

The move from road to rail is estimated to be saving around three million litres of diesel.

“There is an emerging issue with finding and retaining skilled truck drivers in not only the forestry industry but in the wider road freight industry,” Mr Stiles explained.

This task, had it been done by road, is an 800-kilometre journey that would have required another 18 to 20 drivers, he said.

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“This initiative means safer roads and significant fuel savings,” Mr Stiles said.

The transport units built to carry the logs are purpose-built log bunks manufactured by Kennedy Trailers that are fixed to container flats sourced and supplied by Container Options.

Manufacturing delays due to COVID-19, steel supply and high demand on shipping containers created some delays in the project.

In 2022, a record 16 million pine and hardwood seedlings were hand planted across around 14,000 hectares of state forest land in the South West Slopes to rebuild local state plantation forests lost in the 2019-2020 bushfires.

These trees will grow for around 30 years before being harvested for renewable timber products such as timber framing, kitchens and flooring.

That effort was bolstered the same year by the sowing of a further 11 million radiata pine (Pinus radiata) at Forestry Corporation’s Blowering Nursery near Tumut which was swiftly upgraded to increase seedling production capacity.

In the past year, the new seedling crop has been carefully hand weeded, fertilised, nurtured and watered to produce seedlings in time for planting this winter.

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