End of the line for Tier 3 says Buswell

04 Aug, 2011 04:00 AM
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Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance chairman Bill Cowan was furious at the State Governments decision to close the book on Tier 3 lines.
Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance chairman Bill Cowan was furious at the State Governments decision to close the book on Tier 3 lines.

AFTER plenty of debate the State Government has officially pulled Tier 3 lines off WA's transport agenda.

But the long-standing support group of Tier 3 lines, the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance says it won't go down without a fight.

The running battle between the Government and Tier 3 rail supporters has raged for five years now and last week the State Government announced it would proceed with its strategy to invest more than $350 million in WA's grain freight network, which excluded Tier 3s.

The State's investment program was set to include $187.9m upgrades on the most competitive grain freight lines, $118.3m of improvements and maintenance to Wheatbelt roads and a $14.6m transition package to ensure rail transport remained competitive with road in the future.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell said he had met with CBH and was unconvinced by the case it put forward for the State Government to re-sleeper the Tier 3 rail lines in place of investment in roads where these lines were due to cease operations.

"There are a number of significant issues with the CBH case for government to change its investment strategy including, but not limited to, an inconclusive cost benefit analysis and the fact that several infrastructure costs were not taken into account," Mr Buswell said.

"There isn't a compelling case for the retention of the Tier 3 lines and therefore the Government is not prepared to change an investment of more than $100m from roads to re-sleepering of the Tier 3 lines."

Mr Buswell said the government had given CBH time to present its case but now expected it to proceed in accordance with the original strategy.

"I encourage CBH to proceed with its investment in rapid loading facilities at Brookton and Kellerberrin," he said.

"The Government remains committed to its investment in road infrastructure to support the increased volumes transported by road to sites such as Brookton."

Mr Buswell said $104m would be spent on upgrading more than 480 kilometres of State and local government roads throughout 15 shires during the next four years.

Another $14 million was allocated to the maintenance of roads in the grain freight network.

"Main Roads WA has finalised the scope of these works and has discussed these with relevant shires," Mr Buswell said.

"In the meantime road upgrades have already commenced on the Gorge Rock-Lake Grace Road and the Cunderdin-Quairading Road."

CBH was expectedly disappointed with Mr Buswell's decision not to support its proposal to retain Tier 3 rail lines.

CBH chief executive officer Dr Andrew Crane said CBH's case for Tier 3 lines to remain operational was compelling and their closure was a lost opportunity to keep more grain on rail and make WA more competitive on the world market.

Dr Crane said CBH utilised much of the information provided in the government's own Strategic Grain Network Review (SGNR) report to conclude that, with its own significantly reduced operational costs, the lines were now economically viable without additional grain freight funding from government.

"It is important going forward that we learn from this process," Dr Crane said.

"We must ensure the grains industry, the government and the rail track manager WestNet work together to make sure the grain rail network does not deteriorate to such a poor level again that would necessitate closure of further sections.

"The WA grains industry exports up to 90pc of its total annual production and the protection of current efficient rail and road pathways to port is vital.

"We accept that it is Government funds that would be required to be switched from road upgrades to retain the Tier 3 and the Minister's decision means the Brookton Strategy will be implemented."

The Brookton Strategy outlines plans for grain to now move by road from sites on Tier 3 lines to the CBH Brookton receival site for transfer to rail to transport to port.

But Dr Crane said CBH estimated the existing Transition Assistance Package (TAP) would be required indefinitely at Brookton to ensure that maximum volumes of grain remained on rail into the future.

Additional rail infrastructure would also be needed at CBH's Kellerberrin and Brookton receival sites which would require economic assessment prior to any firm commitment.

"Despite CBH's strong commitment to rail there remains the distinct possibility that some growers and marketers operating in the Tier 3 region will choose to bypass Brookton and deliver by truck direct to port at Kwinana," Dr Crane said.

"Unless freight rates under the road-rail supply chain envisaged in the Brookton strategy are more competitive than going by road all the way to port, growers and marketers will go direct."

WestNet Rail's manager of business development and corporate relations Paul Hemmersley said while the State Government's decision to invest in road over rail was disappointing in light of the revised business case, it wasn't unexpected because it was consistent with the recommendations from the Government's SGNR.

"From our point of view we remain focused on upgrading Tier 1 and 2 lines," he said.

"We were really stuck between a rock and a hard place with the government providing the funding for the Tier 1 and 2 lines.

"As a rail provider we would have much preferred for Tier 3s to stay open but after six or seven years of going through this process with government the buck had to stop somewhere.

"Only time will tell whether it's the right choice."

Major supporters of Tier 3 rail and members of the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance, WAFarmers was angered by Transport Minister Troy Buswell's announcement that there was no case for the retention of Tier 3 rail lines in WA.

WAFarmers' consistent position had been that closing the Tier 3 network would directly result in an additional 57,000 truck movements in WA each year, including throughout the Perth metropolitan area.

WAFarmers transport spokesperson and chair of the WRRA, Bill Cowan said on average 93 per cent of all the State's grain transport was rail based but closure of the Tier 3 lines would see that number dramatically decrease with disastrous consequences for country and city road users.

He said rural and metropolitan road users would face additional traffic congestion, increased noise and air pollution and road deterioration as a result of the decision.

"The Government investment is inadequate and can only lead to a much larger problem in several years time, requiring more Government money to continually patch up these roads," Mr Cowan said.

"WAFarmers believes that investment in the Tier 3 lines is the only sensible course of action when both economic and environmental factors are taken into account."

WAFarmers has called on the Premier Colin Barnett to review the decision.

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READER COMMENTS

wa cocky
4/08/2011 6:53:20 PM, on Farm Weekly

cmon Bill time to give up and start trying to get more money for roads and accept that inefficient rail going backwards is never going to work. Look after the roads is the answer not old fashioned railways running the wrong direction
X AG Socialist
5/08/2011 10:21:37 AM, on Farm Weekly

For you reference WA Cockey, Narembeen has a old fashion road running parallel to the wrongly directed rail line.

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