A FEDERAL government $160 million budget commitment to WA agricultural supply chain improvements has renewed hope some mothballed Tier 3 grain lines may be reopened.
The WA Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements (WAASCI) -- Package 1 will fund freight infrastructure improvements across WA's agricultural regions, according to the Federal Budget papers.
This week WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti could not confirm which of WA's agricultural infrastructure projects would receive the Federal funding.
In response to questions about the WAASCI investment, Ms Saffioti said the funds would build on the State government's Revitalising Agricultural Freight Strategy (RAFS), which had identified numerous worthwhile rail freight upgrades.
"Given the size and scale of WA's agricultural areas the specific investments may vary between catchment areas, but we will be investing in road, rail and port projects, as well as improving access and efficiency around receival sites," Ms Saffioti said.
"We'll work collaboratively with the Commonwealth to assign funding to key projects that will benefit the community."
Ms Saffioti said the State government would wait for the finalisation of the business cases for reinstatement of some of WA's Tier 3 grain lines before confirming if any funds would be allocated to them in the State budget in September.
"We are reviewing the cost benefit analysis of reinstating some of the Tier 3 rail lines in the Wheatbelt, and are looking at all relevant factors including new independent engineering advice commissioned by the WA government on the costs of upgrading the lines to an efficient standard; new data demonstrating higher grain production than previously assumed, road safety, environmental and community amenity factors," Ms Saffioti said.
Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) co-ordinator and long-term Tier 3 campaigner Jane Fuchsbichler, Bruce Rock, said following the State government-commissioned engineering report last year on the condition of the mothballed grain lines there was "more hope of finally making progress with the Tier 3 rail problems".
"We applaud the present governments, State and Federal, for acknowledging that investment into infrastructure is vital to bring the nation's freight paths into the 21st century," Ms Fuschbischler said.
"Wheatbelt infrastructure investment is long overdue and becoming a matter of urgency.
"It is my understanding that it costs $1.4 billion each year in subsidies for metropolitan transport - this is more per year than it would cost to rebuild the entire Tier 3 network.
WA senator Michaelia Cash said the Federal Budget was providing funding to better connect regional WA.
"This includes the WA Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements project to better connect our world-class farmers to domestic and international markets," Ms Cash said.
"Regional WA is the backbone of our State, the powerhouse of our economy and by backing supply chain improvements, we are supporting them to continue to lead our State's recovery."
WAASCI forms part of the Federal government's $1.3b infrastructure package for WA which also includes $347.5 million for METRONET and $200m for Great Eastern Highway upgrades.
WA's freight rail network, including Tier 3 lines, was privatised in 2000 under a then Liberal-National State government and leased out to a private operator for 49 years.
As Brookfield Rail, Arc Infrastructure gained control of the freight rail lease in 2010 and placed the Tier 3 lines, which had speed and axle loading limitations, into care and maintenance in 2013 and 2014 on the basis they were not commercially viable in the condition they were then in.
In October last year an engineering report, undertaken by the Agonis Group, provided detailed estimates of the cost to restore each line section of the Tier 3 network to a suitable condition for commercial operation.
The most likely Tier 3 upgrade proposals to be considered by the State government for business case preparation are the Quairading to York line (estimated cost $110.91m); Kulin to Narrogin via Yilliminning (estimated cost $164.41m) and Kondinin to West Merredin via Narembeen (estimated cost $210.67m narrow gauge or $238.08m standard gauge).
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