CBH, Arc near Tier 3 deal

Rueben Hale and Cally DupeThe West Australian
Newdegate farmers look at the flooded line.
Camera IconNewdegate farmers look at the flooded line. Credit: Fanny McDonald

Speculation is mounting CBH and Arc Infrastructure (formerly Brookfield Rail) are close to reaching a deal on reopening most of the Wheatbelt’s Tier 3 railway lines.

Since the closure of 509km of track in the Tier 3 region more than four years ago, farmers have raised concerns about the impact of an estimated 30,000 extra truck movements on crumbling Wheatbelt roads.

Countryman understands talks between the parties, which included representation from the State Government, have resulted in a “loose agreement”, which is currently under consideration by the CBH board. Both sides were approached for comment but have chosen to stay tight-lipped.

CBH is also negotiating with Arc for an interim rail access agreement while arbitration continues to settle long-term access arrangements.

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The former Liberal-National government made a decision in 2010 to close Tier 3 rail lines in WA.

A scathing parliamentary report into the management of WA’s grain freight was highly critical of the former government, calling for steps to be taken towards improving and eventually resolving the situation when it comes to Tier 3 and the entire grain freight network. Since that time the WA Government has been under pressure to recover closed Tier 3 lines and take a more proactive approach to the network’s management.

WA Labor has so far maintained its election commitment to put more grain on the rail tracks.

Meanwhile, the reopening of the Lake Grace-Newdegate line is expected to save growers millions and prevent up to 5000 truck movements on local roads, farmers say.

As reported in Countryman last week, Arc has pledged to open the lines again before harvest.

The 50km track has been closed since February after the surrounding Lake Biddy flooded and damaged the line.

Newdegate farmer Bob Iffla said reopening the line had potential to save millions of dollars.

He said local growers feared they would bear the the cost of trucking big volumes of grain stored at Newdegate.

The site is CBH’s sixth-biggest storage facility in WA. More than 230,000 tonnes were delivered to the bin last year.

“There are about 200,000 tonnes of grain which need to be moved before this harvest,” Mr Iffla said.

“It would add an extra cost, which has to be picked up by someone. It is money which could be going into farmers’ revenue.”

Arc issued a letter to local growers earlier this month which said it had developed a long-term solution to address “flooding of the rail network in the area”.

Arc asset management and projects general manager Paul Lowney said work to repair the line would start in coming weeks. The track will be lifted and rebuilt up to a metre higher.

“There was never any doubt that we were not going to reopen the Newdegate line,” Mr Lowney said.

“However, we wanted to find a solution that would be long-term and able to withstand any further freak flooding that might occur.

“While we haven’t got a kick-off date for works yet, this is expected to happen in the next few weeks.”

Ashley McDonald farms near Lake Biddy and said moving grain from last year’s bumper harvest by truck would be problematic.

“The bottom line is that this lake is not going anywhere,” he said.

“Having to have 5000 truck movements back and forward along the Newdegate-Lake Grace Road is a terrible solution.”

Growers from the area met with Arc Infrastructure on Tuesday to tour the flood-affected portion of the line.

CBH would not reveal how much grain was currently stored at the Newdegate site.

However, it said Newdegate was the 15th biggest receival site in WA, excluding ports and depots, and the biggest in the area.

The site has received on average 186,045 tonnes of grain a year during the past 10 years.

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