Transport bodies say increased freight traffic on the Eyre Highway caused by the closure of a railway line to Perth after flooding in Western Australia has put truck drivers at greater risk.

A section of the Trans-Australian rail line was closed between March 12–30, which meant essential goods usually transported by train had to be moved by truck drivers on the Eyre Highway. 

South Australian Road Transport Association chief officer Steve Shearer said there were reports of unsafe behaviour on the highway amid the heavier traffic.

“A lot of freight customers of rail who are desperate to get their freight to Perth or back from Perth are throwing ridiculous amounts of money at truck operators to move the freight for them,” Mr Shearer said.

He said the higher demand for road transport had attracted many inexperienced drivers who were unfamiliar with the Eyre Highway.

South Australian Road Transport Association executive officer Steve Shearer.(ABC News)

“[There are] a lot of extra operators and drivers, probably, 60 per cent [more] than we normally have, and most of them are unfamiliar with the route,” he said.

“I’ve had [calls] from individuals asking, ‘What’s the route to Perth?’

“That’s such a fundamentally basic matter.

“[Truck operators are] trying to make hay while the sun shines.”

Tim Dawson from the WA branch of the Transport Workers Union said the closure had brought to a head longstanding issues that were plaguing the transport industry, including “the quality of drivers”.

“There’s a crisis within our industry and that is we continue to put people behind the wheels of trucks that haven’t had appropriate training, haven’t had appropriate mentoring and haven’t been taught how the culture of the transport industry works,” Mr Dawson said.

Fatalities highlight risk

The comments from transport bodies come after three men died in a two-truck crash on the Eyre Highway, around 27 kilometres west of Yalata, last Thursday.

“It’s a tragedy, and any loss of life on the road is too much,” Mr Shearer said.

“It impacts the industry deeply.”

Transport Workers Union WA branch member Tim Dawson.(Sipplied: Transport Workers Union)

Mr Dawson said while he could not comment on the circumstances around the crash, it emphasised the importance of safety for those in the transport industry. 

“We’ve just seen three families lose loved ones, who are the breadwinners in their families, who didn’t go home after their shift, and we don’t want to see another accident like this,” he said. 

“We don’t want to see one more worker … not get home at the end of the day.” 

Long-haul truck driving requires appropriate training, the Transport Workers Union says.(UnsplashCaleb Ruiter)

Backlog of freight 

The Australian Rail Track Corporation said the railway line to Perth re-opened on March 30.

However, both Mr Shearer and Mr Dawson expected there would be a significant backlog of road freight going forward.

There are often long distances between rest stops on the Eyre Highway.(ABC Goldfields: Emily Smith)

“Shelves in WA are not as full as we’d like them to be,” Mr Dawson said. 

“Just because the train is running now doesn’t mean we forget about what the issues are, the issues are still there.” 

A SAstate government spokesperson said road freight volumes increased during the railway line closure but were “now declining to normal levels”. 

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