TRANSPORT Minister Troy Buswell has gone against popular advice and decided Tier 3 rail lines will close.
Last week Mr Buswell rejected a bi-partisan parliamentary committee's recommendations and announced his plan to go ahead with the decision to close 700 kilometres of Wheatbelt rail lines before the 2012/13 harvest despite a serious backlash by a number of his fellow parliamentarians, interest groups and growers.
Earlier in the year it was proven Mr Buswell's anti-Tier 3 resolution would add a minimum of 57,000 extra truck movements to the State's inefficient road transport system every year but Shadow Transport Minister Ken Travers said the ramifications would be far greater than that alone.
Mr Travers said while rejecting the Environment and Public Affairs Committee's request to keep the lines open until 2014 to allow CBH and other interested parties more time to prove their case for keeping Tier 3s open, Mr Buswell admitted replacement road upgrades still hadn't been completed.
Mr Travers said the Committee which had a Government majority recommended the lines be kept open for two more years while the Government undertook a new study into the economic viability of keeping the rail lines open and it made no sense for Mr Buswell to "dig in his heels" over the Committee's decision especially when CBH had shown the rail lines could be economically viable.
He also suggested it was ludicrous for Mr Buswell to suggest a user-pays model for the lines.
Before the 2008 State election National Party leader Brendon Grylls promised to keep the rail lines open.
"The Barnett Government has now rejected its own backbench's call for it to re-consider its bad decision," Mr Travers said.
"Only an arrogant and out of touch government would take this position and it highlights the Liberal and National Parties' 40-year history of being hostile to rail infrastructure in WA."
In criticising Mr Buswell's latest move, Mr Travers said the Government should return the $16 million it ripped out of Wheatbelt rail funding two years ago in order to complete maintenance work on the lines it now planned to close.
"Under the flawed privatisation contract signed by the previous Court Liberal National Government, the Barnett Government has the power to direct maintenance money be spent on other sections of the rail network," Mr Travers said.
"If this money was returned to the Wheatbelt rail lines it would allow the lines to remain open long enough for CBH to prove the lines' economic viability.
"In response to the Environment and Public Affairs Committee report which called on the Barnett Government to keep the rail lines open Mr Buswell claimed he would welcome private sector investment in the rail lines.
"If the Minister is serious about this statement he should return the maintenance money that has been ripped out of these lines.
"The Government can't expect rail line users like CBH to invest in rail line upgrades when it hasn't been properly maintaining them.
"It's unfair to ask users to pay again for the maintenance and then to pay for the upgrade of these lines."
In response, Mr Buswell argued the State Government had committed $187.9m for the re-sleepering of the Tier 1 and 2 rail networks in addition to $118.3m for road improvements.
He said road upgrades had commenced, with $43.7m allocated to State and $60.6m for local government roads.
"By December 2012, 47pc of State road upgrades are expected to be completed and they will be finalised by June 2013 when the final two Tier 3 rail lines are placed in care and maintenance," Mr Buswell said.
"The Committee's recommendation to keep Tier 3 rail lines open to the end of 2014 is not supported.
"I have been advised that these lines are becoming sub-standard and that Brookfield Rail has reservations about the safety of these lines."
Mr Buswell said he didn't support any further economic review of the Tier 3 rail network.
"In June 2011 CBH presented a business case to the Government for the retention of Tier 3 rail lines but the case wasn't supported by the Government as it wasn't proven conclusively that grain would be transported by rail or that these lines were viable," he said.
"CBH and other parties have been advised that the Government doesn't object to private investment in the Tier 3 rail network if investors believe that these lines are viable."
When Farm Weekly spoke to National Party leader Brendon Grylls last week he was in support of the Committee's recommendation to allow for some more time before the Government made its final decision on the future of Tier 3s.
Although he didn't dismiss the idea of some kind of monetary input from companies like CBH who would utilise the Tier 3 lines.
At a WAFarmers zone meeting in Narembeen in February last year Mr Grylls, under his role as the Regional Development and Lands Minister, cemented his unpopular reputation as a staunch opponent of Tier 3 retention after he inferred CBH had held up the process of government funding to upgrade Tier 3 lines.
National MLC Philip Gardiner and former National MLC Max Trenorden were also dismayed at Mr Buswell's response to the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Public Affairs, of which each member spoke in favour of the Committee's recommendations.
Mr Gardiner said Mr Buswell remained committed to the flawed 2009 Strategic Grain Network Report (SGNR) despite being provided with clear evidence that it was both incorrect and out-dated.
"As one element, the original expenditure estimate for roads affected by the closure of the Tier 3 lines was $96.1m," Mr Gardiner said.
"Allowing for an inflation figure of 7.4pc from June 2009 to June 2012, this estimate would be $103m yet the expenditure figure now quoted is $118m.
"Even more importantly the ongoing maintenance assessed at an additional $700,000 per annum seems seriously under-estimated based on the road construction base and proposed use from information provided by those in the industry." Full story in this week's Farm Weekly.