A PARLIAMENTARY committee has recommended Wheatbelt Tier 3 rail lines remain open until the end of 2014 to enable CBH to demonstrate its business case for the retention of the grain freight network.
Last week the committee also recommended that within the same time frame the State Government should commission the Wheatbelt Development Commission to undertake an economic review of the appropriate grain transport infrastructure for areas serviced by Tier 3 lines.
The recommendations were made in response to a petition tabled in the Legislative Council on Tuesday, March 6, this year which called on the Council to investigate the decision-making process behind the closure of the Tier 3 lines with particular consideration to the CBH business case.
Committee chairman and Agricultural Region MLC Brian Ellis who tabled the report in parliament late last week, said the closure of Tier 3 lines had been an emotive issue since an economic review in 2009 had decided they were not commercially viable due to substantial competition from road transport companies.
Last week Mr Ellis agreed the current State Government had invested more money into the grain rail network than any other government in the last two decades but said as a grain grower he understood the deep feelings the issue had caused among WA grain growers, city and country road users and the wider community.
"I welcomed the temporary reprieve until October 31 this year offered by the Transport Minister after last year's bumper harvest," Mr Ellis said.
"But the committee has taken on board new circumstances which we believe are sufficient to encourage the 2009 decision to be revisited."
Mr Ellis said the circumstances included the appointment of new rail operator Watco, which CBH believed resulted in efficiencies in operation and new access arrangements with the rail network provider.
He also said the committee queried the extent of the impact of increased truck movements on road infrastructure as stated in the 2009 review.
The new report noted that while there was an agreement that relevant circumstances had changed there was still disagreements as to whether this rendered the Tier 3 lines commercially viable.
It was also noted that a consideration would be made for the government money already spent on road infrastructure upgrades.
In tabling the report Mr Ellis said the committee concluded that "while they may seem fine twigs when viewed on the railway map the decision whether or not to proceed with closure of the Tier 3 lines directs significant investment and has ramifications for the development and use of related infrastructure."
The report also recognised about half the State's grain production came from the southern part of the Kwinana port zone and "determining the appropriate grain transport infrastructure for this region is of considerable importance not only to the nearly 2000 farmers who access Tier 3 lines, the local governments who plan around grain movements and Wheatbelt communities generally but to the wider WA community."
Mr Ellis said the committee considered the current commercial viability of Tier 3 lines needed to be tested before any decision whether to proceed with their closure was made.
WAFarmers transport spokesperson and chairman of the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) Bill Cowan welcomed the committee's recommendation with open arms.
He said it was critically important the recommendations had been put into the public domain and it was now up to the State Government to decide whether or not to adopt them.
"I urge Premier Colin Barnett and Transport Minister Troy Buswell to take on board these recommendations and give CBH and farmers in the Wheatbelt an opportunity to once again demonstrate the benefits of Tier 3 rail," he said.
"CBH has identified it can cart grain on rail cheaper than road from all Tier 3 sites in operation.
"We have to remember 40 wagons and one locomotive can cart the same amount as 40 road trains."
Mr Cowan said the Tier 3 rail network was developed as an economical and safe option to transport grain in the Wheatbelt and investment in the Tier 3 lines was the only sensible course of action when economic, environmental and road safety factors were taken into account.
Opposition Transport Minister Ken Travers also welcomed the news.
"Wheatbelt roads see more fatal accidents than any part of WA," Mr Travers said.
"If the State Government had invested money in upgrading the lines in the beginning it would have saved the State millions.
"It should adopt the committee's recommendations and ensure it is a quick inquiry."
The CBH Group said it remained committed to grain on rail and believe rail offers, where available and serviced by its new rail fleet and rail provider Watco, the best long-term economic transport solution across the WA Wheatbelt.
CBH Group said it expected to have its new rail wagons operating on some sections of Tier 3 during July.
"The recent Parliamentary Committee report recommending that the Tier 3 lines remain open until the end of 2014 is a matter for government response," it said.
The Transport Minister is required to provide a written response to the recommendations within two months.