NSW, Vic, El Zorro aims to make grain long-running cereal
NSW, Vic, El Zorro aims to make grain long-running cereal
• Philip Hopkins
• The Age MEL April 14, 2008
MENTION the name Zorro and there's a good chance most people will think of the swashbuckling, masked crusader.
However, when Ray Evans founded niche rail operator El Zorro in 1999, he was not thinking of the fictitious champion of the underdog in early 19th century California.
Mr Evans, who speaks some Spanish, is an admirer of trucking magnate Lindsay Fox, so the preferred name for his new company flowed from there: Zorro is Spanish for fox.
Now, however, El Zorro, like its namesake, wants to come to the rescue. It aims to help the state's grain farmers and at the same time begin an era of expansion as a major rail freight operator in Victoria and NSW.
Rail giant Pacific National is getting out of grain and general freight, potentially leaving grain farmers without rail transport, and El Zorro wants to take PN's place.
The specialist rail operator, based in Williamstown in Melbourne's inner west, has already won some contracts from PN, including an agreement to carry container freight between Warrnambool and Melbourne, and a contract to provide two trains for AWB. Negotiations are continuing with AWB for another contract.
"There is potential for a big grain harvest," said El Zorro business manager Geoff Tighe. "The biggest issue is time. We would like a decision by the end of April so we can get our planning under way. AWB took a punt with us. We think it will pay off handsomely for both."
Mr Tighe is one of the three shareholders in El Zorro, the others being Mr Evans and Lisa Trezise. He brings more than 45 years' work experience to his executive role. An initial 16 years in the industrial chemicals sector as an accountant has been followed by almost 30 years in rail.
Mr Tighe joined the Victorian Railways Department in 1979, eventually becoming chief executive of V/Line Passenger Corporation in the mid-1990s, and after privatisation, chief executive of National Express' passenger company.
But he soon fell out with the private operator over a variety of issues, including revenue projections and safety issues, and feels vindicated by the failure of National Express.
"My arguments in time have proven to be correct … but they (National Express) trashed the careers of worthy people in the industry," he said.
Mr Tighe moved on to become chief executive of Great Northern Rail (GNR), which became a prototype for El Zorro. "We were a little operation, hiring out locomotives, hiring crew and running infrastructure trains," he said.
17/04/2008 6:00:00 AM
New GrainCorp managing director, Mark Irwin, says drought-proofing his big bulk handling and grain marketing business, export wheat sales and taking over rail freight roles are his key areas to focus on.
Mr Irwin, who took the helm at GrainCorp earlier this month on the retirement of the company’s long serving (and founding) previous managing director, Tom Keene, hopes that within a month he will have some resolution to the rail freight vacuum facing the grain industry this year.
“GrainCorp will manage the trains to ensure maximum utilisation, and like the silo network, any grain company will be able to buy capacity on these trains,” Mr Irwin said.
He said rail freight operator, Asciano, which owns the Pacific National grain wagon fleet in NSW and Victoria, wanted to protect its business from seasonal fluctuations in earnings, so was looking to transfer rail risk to parties like GrainCorp.
“We are seeking an acceptable outcome for both of us,” Mr Irwin said, while warning that a lack of government investment in rail infrastructure might affect service levels.
He is bullish about GrainCorp’s overall business prospects.
“The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) economies are pushing up meat and grain consumption, and put together with the biofuel boom, I think it is a good time to be involved in the grains industry,” he said.
But he was aware of the vagaries of dealing with Australian seasons.
“The issue of production risk is a big one, and I want to ensure the business is drought-proofed as best as it can be,” he said.
From The Land, April 17, 2008.
"How long will the next train be? Six cars would be my guess."

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