Tottering transport back on rails

30 May, 2010 04:00 AM
CBH general manager operations Colin Tutt.
CBH general manager operations Colin Tutt.

THE State budget announcement delivered positive news for the local grains industry, thanks to an $80 million funding allocation that will provide critical upgrades designed to make the grain freight network more efficient.

Transport Minister Simon O'Brien said the State Government's $50m budget contribution more than matched the Commonwealth's $30m commitment, as outlined in the Federal Budget.

He said the funding allocations provided a strong starting point for important initial works on rail lines and roads aligned to the grain transportation network, to assist the flow of grain from CBH sites to ports at Albany, Esperance, Geraldton and Kwinana.

Mr O'Brien also maintained his promise that no grain rail lines would close in the 2010-11 financial year.

But he said the State Government recognised some non-economic rail lines would need to be placed into care and maintenance in the future, if the industry chose not to use rail as the preferred mode of grain transport.

"If the grain industry continues to use the network, then lines will not close," he said.

"The government is committed to keeping grain on rail, but the real onus is on farmers and bulk handlers, who currently use road transport to put their grain back on rail."

WestNet Rail general manager Paul Larsen also welcomed the budget announcement, describing it as a positive first step for the entire works program.

Mr Larsen said a total of $164.5m was needed for a narrow gauge grain rail re-sleepering program, as recommended by the Strategic Grain Network Committee in its report to government last year.

He also was pleased the first stage of that project could now start and that the $30m State funding was matched by the Federal Government and would meet the cost of the first year of a proposed program to re-sleeper around 370km of grain rail lines from Northam to Albany and Northam to Koorda.

"It has taken a while to get there but we can start work now," he said. "We haven't got all the money that we asked for in the SGNC report but this portion will ensure we make a strong start and move into the first stage of the task."

Mr Larsen said he understood the State and Federal Governments were considering allocating more of the remaining $104.5m, in the next budget.

He said the rail network also needed about another $90m to keep Tier Three lines open.

"The federal money ($135m) is still there and discussions are continuing on that," he said.

"But the best thing about this announcement is that we can now get on with repairs to the Northam to Albany section of the network in the next couple of months and the other sections of the network that also need work will hopefully follow."

CBH also was buoyed by the State Government's commitment to the WA grain rail network.

CBH general manager operations Colin Tutt said the funding would help keep grain on rail and trucks off roads.

"The Transition Assistance Package (TAP) will temporarily offset the additional freight costs associated with keeping grain on rail on certain lines rather than transporting it by road," Mr Tutt said.

"We look forward to understanding the full detail of the TAP to fully appreciate what it will mean for the rail network long term.

"The TAP is only an interim solution to temporarily keep a number of narrow gauge lines operating and we are aware the government is working on the transition process.

"The funding to re-sleeper the Great Southern Railway, the railway line which connects sites from Avon to Albany, will help improve the performance of rail on this line as it will help ease many of the restrictions we face, for example heat and loco speeds restrictions.

"Many of our grower shareholders are passionate about keeping grain on rail and CBH is committed to doing everything we can to keep rail viable, as demonstrated by our recent decision to go to tender for the above-rail services for the first time."

Agricultural Region MLC Brian Ellis said the budget decision formalised the SGNC's findings.

Mr Ellis said it was good to see money delivered "on the ground" for the first stage of the overall re-sleepering project.

He said it re-enforced the State Government's commitment to the grain rail network and followed up on the $23m delivered last year, which started the SGNC recommendations.

"It's good to see that no rail lines will close in 2010-11," Mr Ellis said. "But the onus is now on farmers now to use it or lose it.

"If they make a commercial decision to road transport their grain instead of rail this year, there may well be some rail closures in future."

Agricultural Region MLC Jim Chown said WA's $4.5 billion grains industry and families and communities throughout the Agricultural Region, were the major beneficiaries of the State Government's decision to invest more than $80m into the State's grain freight network.

"In addition to direct funding for the State's grain freight network, the government has committed to spending 58 per cent of available road funding dollars on country roads and will provide $136m directly to local governments for construction and maintenance of Shire roads," Mr Chown said.

"The necessary works and funding will begin well before this year's harvest to ensure that the State's grains industry benefits from an efficient and safe road and rail transportation system."

Mr Chown said the grain freight network investment included: $13.5m for re-sleepering the Albany to Avon rail line; $11.6m for the TAP; $16.5m recovered from WestNet Rail for capital works on Wheatbelt rail lines; $7.93m for necessary upgrades to the Chester Pass Road; $650,000 towards realigning Collie-lake King Road on the eastern approach to Darkan town site; and $30m of Commonwealth funding allocated solely for upgrades to the grain rail network.



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