Tier 3 line closures called into question

27 Nov, 2010 02:00 AM
 Agricultural MLC Brian Ellis (left), WestNet Rail chief executive officer Paul Larsen, Agricultural MLC Jim Chown and Transport Minster Simon O'Brien installed a clip to a silver railway sleeper to signify the start of the grain freight network upgrade to the Great Southern railway line.
Agricultural MLC Brian Ellis (left), WestNet Rail chief executive officer Paul Larsen, Agricultural MLC Jim Chown and Transport Minster Simon O'Brien installed a clip to a silver railway sleeper to signify the start of the grain freight network upgrade to the Great Southern railway line.

SINCE the State Government announced its $178.8 million investment package to bolster WA's grain freight network, questions have been raised about the Government's plan to close Tier 3 lines throughout the State.

During last week's funding announcement at the CBH Metro Grain Centre, Premier Colin Barnett said farmers and road users would all benefit from the move to put funding into the State's road and rail systems.

"This massive upgrade to the grain freight network will improve the efficiency of grain transport, which will mean lower costs for farmers," he said.

"From a community safety perspective, a robust rail freight network means fewer heavy vehicles on the predominately narrow country roads, making it safer for other vehicles, including caravans and school buses.

"The investment will ensure the future of the network and demonstrates the Government's commitment to the long-term continuity of the grain industry and rural communities."

At the announcement Transport Minister Simon O'Brien said the funding was also a way to support Wheatbelt communities and avoid adverse impacts on the Perth metropolitan area itself.

But some growers and industry people have voiced their concern over the lack of funding for Tier 3 lines.

Merredin grower Kevin Jones was disappointed with the lack of funding for Tier 3 lines and said the Strategic Grain Network Committee (SGNC) was devised to do just that, keep those in the city happy without regard to those farmers who would utilise Tier 3 lines.

"The SGNC was set up without any representation from the areas which have been the most affected," Mr Jones said.

"As a consequence the report is a flawed desktop study delivering inaccurate and incomplete data that is supposed to give validity to a pre-ordained agenda, the implementation of the Brookton Strategy and closing Tier 3 lines.

"While I believe Mr O'Brien is possessed of good intentions to mitigate the adverse risks in his area I also believe he has an obligation to show the same concern for those driving in the country.

"Forcing another 85,000 road train movements onto a sub-standard rural road network is doing no more than transferring the risk to the Tier 3 areas and the increasing the danger to school buses and other road users that go with it."

Mr Jones said in June 2009 WestNet Rail indicated it would stop running services on four of its rail lines unless Government assistance was provided.

He said WestNet provided full details of the funding needed over the four lines to maintain its services which amounted to $249m and the Federal Government offered $135m to match the funds for the rail upgrade.

"The State Government provides a pooled figure of $270m and recent press releases declaring the Tier 1 and Tier 2 upgrades give a figure of $187.9m, it begs the question, where is the rest?" he said.

"It's about time the Government stopped being hypocritical about applying subsidies when it's obvious that Brookton has to be subsidised to work because how can you send grain 260kms by rail when the road distance is only 125kms?

"There are no other viable options other than to take steps to upgrade Tier 3 lines because rail is the only sustainable transport system for the grain industry now and in the future."

Narembeen grower Bill Cowan said it was good to see money being allocated to the long overdue Tier 1 and 2 rail lines.

But he said the decision not to spend money on Tier 3 lines was "short sighted, small minded and would cost the State in the future."

"The funding for roads in these areas falls far short of the mark," he said.

"WA could only be one season away from a 20m tonne crop and if this happens then Tier 3 rail as well as every truck and every grain receival point is going to be needed to shift the crop.

"The amazing thing is that fixing the Tier 3 will cost the State Government approximately one sixth of what it will cost to fix the roads."

Mr Cowan said the SGNC was wrong about the amount it would take to fix roads in the Tier 3 areas.

"In my area alone the Wogarl, Ainsworth and Bendering bins have not been included in any road funding," he said.

"Wogarl in particular has some bends that a car would have to stop and wait to let a road train through before it could pass on that section of the road.

"Narembeen to South Kummin has been allowed only a quarter of the cost to fix that road according to the Narembeen Shire estimations."

He said areas around Brookton and Corrigin could have more than six times the number of truck movements carting grain on these roads than recognised by the SGNC report.

"None of this was envisaged by the Committee which, had they been in contact with the local Shires they would have learned the true social and economic costs," he said.

He said it should be noted that some of the Tier 3 lines are currently competitive with road and were still being shut down by the Government.

"The reason the rest of the Tier 3 lines struggle is because of an inefficient rail loading process along with outdated trains and wagons," he said.

"Many questions still have not been answered like why have freight rates for some Tier 3 areas increased by nearly 120pc in four years?

"Narembeen went up 3pc last year.

"Why is Holleton cheaper than Mt Walker and Wogarl noting that it's much further to port.

"How can Brookton be used as the inland receival point when it's 260kms by rail to Kwinana and 120kms by road?

"The rail freight cost is $14.54 a tonne compared to Kellerberrin which is 268kms on standard gauge and costs $18.93 a tonne.

"Brookton is obviously subsidised by other growers."

It's not just growers who are disappointed by the lack of funding for Tier 3 lines, but other industry bodies and Government members as well.

While WAFarmers praised the Government for its significant investment its transport spokesman Colin Nicholl said WAFarmers would be keen to review the finer details of the investment with a particular emphasis on Tier 3 lines.

"They'll require urgent investment to improve efficiency and improve viability," he said.

Shadow Minster for Transport Ken Travers said the closure of Tier 3 lines in the grain rail network would inevitably cost lives in the Wheatbelt.

Mr Travers said the announcement that the Tier 3 lines would surely close was a devastating blow for many communities in the Wheatbelt as road trains, school buses and cars would still be left to compete for limited space on roads that were simply not up to standard.

"The Liberal and National Party have again shown they are hostile to rail," Mr Travers said.

"The Barnett-Grylls Government had set out from day one to close the Tier 3 lines and has failed to consider what investment is required to ensure rail is competitive with road."

He said the Barnett Government's claim that industry didn't use rail were simply wrong and the vast majority of grain in Tier 3 areas was currently moved by rail.

"Road is receiving a massive undisclosed subsidy but rail is expected to be full cost recovery," he said.

"WA Labor calls on the Barnett-Grylls Government to release all the financial modelling and analysis to show why the Government decided to close the tier three lines.

"It is a sad day that WA loses more rail lines."


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