Govt dithers on railroads

18 May, 2005 08:45 PM
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THE State Government refuses to be drawn on questions about sustainability of the state's ageing grain rail network until release of an independent strategic study into grain storage and handling.

However, Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan has expressed concern about lack of private sector investment in the freight rail network since it was privatised in 2000.

Last month the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) claimed 68pc of Australia's grain export crop was at risk if urgent investment was not made in regional rail lines.

The Australian Railroad Group (ARG), which runs the WA freight rail network, and Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH), the major user of the network for grain, have also raised concerns about its future sustainability.

Grain is being transported by road alongside some sections of narrow gauge lines in WA and there have been some claims that train speeds and loads are limited in some areas due to condition of the track.

A spokesman for the Planning and Infrastructure Department said the State Government had made a number of significant investments and commitments to the freight rail network in the past four years.

This included the $88m in the Geraldton Southern Transport corridor, which comprised a significant investment in rail and a $28m rail enhancement into Fremantle Port.

The spokesman did not acknowledge there were sustainability problems with the WA rail grain network.

However, he said government and key grains industry stakeholders were undertaking an independent strategic study into the WA grain industry's storage, handling and transport infrastructure requirements for the next 25 years.

The spokesman said the study would define and make recommendations on an ideal sustainable grain logistics system to meet stakeholder needs until 2030.

"The State Government will develop its position on the sustainability of the WA grain rail network based on the outcomes of this study," he said.

"It is anticipated the independent strategic study will make recommendations on the overall state of the WA grain rail network and what is required to achieve sustainability.

"It is anticipated the independent strategic study will also make recommendations regarding investment in the WA grain network," the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, a Wesfarmers spokesman said the company was happy with its 50pc joint venture investment in the WA freight rail system.

The spokesman said there had been some operational difficulties in the past, such as derailments, but these issues were being tackled by ARG management.

"We have never indicated our intention to pull out of our investment in the JV," he said.

"We are maintaining our investment in ARG," he said.

A Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) report has also called on Federal and State governments to accept accountability for repairing the country's ailing infrastructure, calling for a $25 billion upgrade.

The CEDA report said an infrastructure investment backlog needed immediate attention in areas such as water, energy and land transport.

This included railways, electric power, sea and air ports and other investments that enable the activities of communities and businesses.

The CEDA report says there are adequate funds available to fix the $25bn backlog but the missing element is commitment from federal and state governments to sort out how to fix the problem.

ìWe have a huge backlog of infrastructure projects needing to be built and maintained," CEDA chief executive officer David Edwards said.

"At the same time, we have private investorsÝready to take a risk on infrastructure, and governments with capacity toÝfund infrastructure through debt.

"What our governments need to do is find ways to bring the money and the projects together.

Mr Edwards said Federal and State Governments would do well to set clear targets and responsibilities for improving infrastructure which would make them accountable for getting results.

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