From carrots to cargo

Today Peter Crawford took delivery of two locomotives – an $11 million investment in his freight company Crawford Freightlines based in Sandgate.

Peter Crawford back home where it all began on his Singleton farm.

Peter Crawford back home where it all began on his Singleton farm.

On taking delivery of the locos Mr Crawford described them as a couple of big toys.

The locos were appropriately named Carrot and Spud - two products that Mr Crawford once grew on his Singleton farm. .

From humble beginnings as a vegetable grower Mr Crawford and his wife Dianne have built a substantial freight business that today employs 175 staff running nearly 100 trucks from Sandgate and their Queensland depot at  Gracemere and now their own rail freight operation.

Every day a train leaves the company’s depot at Sandgate carrying 108 containers filled with a mixture of freight including aluminium, steel, wine, meat and timber and heads down to Port Botany in Sydney.

Crawford’s are the state’s first private rail freight operator and they also have the largest privately owned ammonia nitrate storage facility in Australia.

It was frustration with market returns from growing potatoes and carrots on his Bridgman Road farm plus a disastrous carrot harvest that forced his decision to look for alternative source of income.

In 1990 he carted grapes during harvest for the Oatley family’s Rosemount Wines then based at Denman.

“That harvest I carted 400 tonnes of grape for the Oatley’s and that was the start of our freight business,” Mr Crawford told The Argus

“Overtime that increased to between 30,000-40,000 tonnes of grapes a season.

“From there I moved into other produce and then into ammonia nitrate as the mines started to expand.”

The trouble with farming according to Mr Crawford is the fact you don’t have control over your destiny.

“With freight you have that control – every facet of the business, except the ports, you can control,” he said.

From those early days the business has continued to grow and grow moving to its Sandgate depot in 2007 where the rail freight operation began in 2009.

The volume of freight movement is impressive, the daily train alone carries a 3500 tonne payload and when demand is high the company can have two trains leaving the depot each day.

Handling ammonia nitrate has been the company’s ‘bread and butter’ for 15 years with the Sandgate facility capable of storing 13,500 tonnes of the product.

Working with the likes of EDI Downer and Dyno Noble the company’s trucks are a regular sight on the region’s highways.

Mr Crawford is keen to continue to grow and diversity his business thus the huge investment in the locos rather than continuing to pay rent on the engines.

He and his business development manager Andrew Ray are already looking to the future of the company with plans for expansion in both rail and road freight.

The company is in talks with local and state government representatives across the state looking at opportunities to expand.

“Our aim is to grow the business by providing viable freight options for our customers many of whom compete in a global marketplace,” Mr Ray said.

“Customers need the best freight options to survive in a global market and that’s where we see our role.”

But building up this business did not come cheaply with the company having to spend $5m on obtaining the storage licence for the ammonia nitrate despite the fact the product had been stored on site for 20 years.

This type of red tape has frustrated Mr Crawford along with the reluctance of some government bodies at local and state levels to support and encourage business investment in our region.

He is also concerned about the adverse media coverage his company receives.

“Find us on Goggle and it’s all bad press – that coverage cost us a major contract recently so I am hoping one day we might get better publicity based on what we have achieved.

“My family, the 200 families we support and the companies we work for are all proud of what we have achieved.

“I think our story from growing carrots to what we have today is worth telling.”

Mr Crawford loves the fact he comes from Singleton and praised many local businesses that had assisted him over the years in growing the company.

TRAINS SET: UGL's Rod Morrison and Crawfords Freightlines' Peter Crawford inspect two Newcastle-built locomotives at Broadmeadow. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

TRAINS SET: UGL's Rod Morrison and Crawfords Freightlines' Peter Crawford inspect two Newcastle-built locomotives at Broadmeadow. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Crawford's purchased the locos from UGL’s Rail Division, located at  Broadmeadow.

The locomotives were the C44ACi, described by UGL as providing world leading technology from America’s General Electric Company, the C44ACi is proudly designed and built in Newcastle to meet Australia’s unique rail and environmental requirements. 

Crawford’s are the latest to see benefits in this solution and their two new C44ACi locomotives “Carrot” & “Spud” will replace three older leased locomotives on the service between Sandgate and Sydney.