WA businesses face restocking backlog despite Trans-Australian Railway line reopening

West Australian businesses may take up to six weeks to restock supplies despite the reopening of the vital east-west rail line following flooding in South Australia.

The Trans-Australian line, which connects supply chains between WA, Adelaide and the Northern Territory, was down for 24 days — the longest it has ever been out of action.

Extra trains and trucks are being used to replenish supplies, and some suppliers have contracted shipping companies to bring in containers of food, with the first ship due in Fremantle next week.

But for the time being, there are still gaps on the shelves at Will Lunt’s pool supply warehouse in Bayswater, which should be packed with chlorine tablets and algae-killing chemicals.

“Unfortunately, the last big order we placed just before Christmas is still stuck somewhere between New South Wales and WA, and we have no idea when that will be coming through,” Mr Lunt said.

There are still gaps on the shelves of Will Lut’s warehouse.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

Even stock that has managed to cross the Nullarbor is in limbo.

“The companies in Kewdale trying to ship things out, they’re back-logged as well. You can’t win sometimes,” Mr Lunt said.

Anxious wait to see if back orders filled

Inglewood hairdresser Sandra Cassin also faces an uncertain wait to find out if her back orders of shampoos and conditioners will be delayed.

Sandra Cassin wears make up with her red hair done up standing in her salon
Sandra Cassin is hopeful orders of products will make it to the salon in time.(ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

“I’m hoping not, but there may be [delays] still because there are a lot of people that have got back orders that are waiting on that supply,” Ms Cassin said.

Priority will be given to water-treatment products, food and medical supplies.

“The big effort now will be making sure our distribution centers can operate and distribute the food across the network,” WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said.

Ms Saffioti said the focus would be on ensuring the centers had enough workers and distribution networks were strong enough to get supplies out to the shops.

She said triple-road trains had helped to bring essential goods across the Nullarbor over the past three weeks.

A large white truck with three trailers on a red dirt road under clear blue skies
Rita Saffioti says allowing trucks to haul three semi-trailers increased their capacity by about 50 per cent.(ABC News: Caddie Brain)

Distribution staff took annual leave during outage

At one distribution centre, Sadleirs in Kewdale, which mainly deals in steel, mining and farming equipment, staff are being brought back to work.

Chief executive David Cole said during the 24 days the rail line was down, staff took three weeks annual leave to help the business cope.

He said they would come back now as products already in transit are cleared.

Mr Cole did not expect any new freight to be dispatched from interstate before the end of this week or early next week.

For solar panel wholesaler Emmett Bray, the delay was not unexpected.

The SG Wholesale business development manager said the delay could last up to three weeks, given that is how long the line was down for.

A man in a high-viz vest stands in a store room in front of racks of products on shelves.
Emmett Bray expects delays to last between one and three weeks. (ABC News: Nicolas Perpitch)

“We’re pretty fortunate there are alternate products we can use, but in other circumstances, it’s just a discussion or rescheduling installations and our ability to supply,” he said.

Vulnerability of WA’s supply chain laid bare

The Trans-Australian rail line carries 80 per cent of WA’s freight and the 24 days it was down has exposed the vulnerability of the state’s supply chain.

An aerial photo of a waterlogged outback setting showing b-double and triple road trains parked on and off the road.
Trucks were banked up along the Stuart Highway in South Australia after the state was hit by floods.(Supplied: Mat Kerin)

The state government wants to work with the Commonwealth to increase the amount of freight that comes by ship, improve flood-proofing of the rail line by upgrading draining in low-lying areas, while improving east-west road links, in particular the Outback Way road project.

Outback Way is largely a unsealed road connecting Laverton in WA and Winton in Queensland through Alice Springs and is often referred to as Australia’s longest shortcut.

“We’re currently upgrading that road and that is seen as the third corridor in a sense, a middle corridor through Australia to again improve the resilience,” Ms Saffioti said.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief economist Aaron Morey said quickly re-opening the state’s border would also help.

“Opening up passenger aircraft into and out of WA would add to those supply chain options for many local businesses,” he said.

In the meantime, Ms Saffioti is urging people to remain patient and only buy what they need over the coming weeks.

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