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Grain growers urge Saffioti to visit North America to solve Tier 3 woes

Cally DupeCountryman
One of the last trains to use the Tier 3 narrow-gauge track between Narambeen and Merredin.
Camera IconOne of the last trains to use the Tier 3 narrow-gauge track between Narambeen and Merredin. Credit: Mogens Johansen

A group of grain farmers from areas affected by the Tier 3 closures threw down the gauntlet to the State Government last week, urging WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti to visit North America to see its rail infrastructure.

The five-strong group travelled to Perth to meet Ms Saffioti last Tuesday, and encouraged her to visit the grain rail freight network in Canada and the US.

The group included Hyden farmers Colin Nicholl, and Paul and Kerrie Green, Newdegate farmer Trevor de Langrafft, and Kulin farmer Barry West.

Mr Nicholl, who delivers his grain to Hyden before it is transported to Albany Port, said the group hoped the minister would travel to see what they considered “best practice” in grain transport ahead of releasing its Agricultural Region Freight Strategy next year.

The strategy is expected to propose six key objectives to improve efficiency and encourage regional economic growth, by integrating infrastructure for grain, livestock, agricultural lime, fertiliser and hay supply chains.

The meeting between Ms Saffioti and the farmers was held a month after CBH and Arc Infrastructure signed a seven-year rail access agreement, allowing CBH to use Arc’s rail network to 2026.

The agreement did not include reopening any of the 509km of Tier 3 lines, which were closed in 2014.

The condition of Tier 3 network has raised concerns with farmers but with the bill to bring them up to scratch estimated to potentially cost more than $100 million, the group believes it is time for a radical rethink of the way grain is transported in Australia.

Mr Nicholl said the group understood lines of a similar condition to WA’s ageing Tier 3 lines were currentl being used in North America.

“We wanted the minister to go and have a look at the way grain was handled in North America ... what we believe is best practice,” he said.

“We wanted her to see a range of things, even how they turn 10,000-tonne trains around at the port, how they store grain upcountry, and how they rail directly to ship side at port. “All kinds of efficiencies we believe could be used here.”

Mr Nicholl said Ms Saffioti told the group she was unable to visit Canada in the short term but was interested in what the group had to say.

“She said her portfolio was too busy with the Forrestfield-Airport Link, the Yanchep Rail Extension, and various roadworks in Perth,” he said. “It is a bit frustrating that so much money is going into the city. We are not saying that is not essential, but we would like to see similar applications in the rural freight scene.”

As well as encouraging her to visit North America, Mr Nicholl said the group also discussed transport costs and the need to pass on savings to growers.

The group also raised the increasingly-competitive nature of the global grain trading marketplace.

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