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Barnett stance on rail lines angers farmers

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

Farmers and road safety campaigners have accused Colin Barnett of putting lives at risk by trying to "weasel out of" an election promise to keep grain freight lines in the Wheatbelt operating.

The Liberal Party took out front-page advertisements in rural newspapers two days before the State election, stating it would keep viable Tier 3 lines open and provide funding to maintain them if re-elected.

The pledge appeared next to a picture of the Premier, who refused to answer questions yesterday on whether his cash-strapped Government would keep its word. CBH, which uses the lines to cart grain, and peak lobby group WAFarmers said it was obvious the lines were viable.

Brookfield Rail - which operates the lines under a lease from the Government - agreed they were viable, with Tier 3 freight rates cheaper than road freight.

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However, Brookfield chief executive Paul Larsen said an investment of more than $90 million to put new sleepers on the ageing lines was needed for rail to remain a cheaper option.

Mr Larsen said that under the terms of Brookfield's contract the Government was responsible for major expenditure on grain freight lines but could choose whether to do the work.

Brookfield said this week it was closing the York to Quairading and Merredin to Trayning lines because it was not safe or sustainable to keep them open without government investment. It is in talks with CBH about the remaining Tier 3 lines.

Shadow transport minister Ken Travers and the Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance said the closures would create thousands of extra truck movements on poorly maintained country roads and put lives in danger.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the Government was trying to "weasel out" of its election commitment by suggesting the lines were not viable.

"These lines are viable and the Government has to be held to account," Mr Park said.

CBH operations manager David Capper said all the lines it used were viable long term.

"Over the past 10 years grain growers in WA through CBH have paid almost $500 million in access fees to use the lines and we have spent $175 million on state-of-the-art, purpose-built rolling stock and given opportunity in the last 12 months we have moved 650,000 tonnes on the Tier 3."

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