MPs question Tier 3 closure

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
Morley MLA Ian Britza, Southern River MLA Peter Abetz and Eyre MLA Graham Jacobs in the Wheatbelt last week.
Camera IconMorley MLA Ian Britza, Southern River MLA Peter Abetz and Eyre MLA Graham Jacobs in the Wheatbelt last week. Credit: Danella Bevis/Countryman

Three State Liberal MPs say they are reconsidering their view on the closure of Tier 3 rail lines, after a visit to the Wheatbelt last Friday.

Member for Eyre Graham Jacobs, Member for Morley Ian Britza and Member for Southern River Peter Abetz travelled to York and Quairading and were shown road damage in several locations caused by grain trucks and an accident black spot between the towns.

Brookfield Rail closed the lines from York to Quairading and Merredin to Trayning in October last year, after the Barnett Government leased the State's rail lines in a controversial and confidential agreement with Brookfield.

The Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance have fought to have the rail lines re-opened, arguing the decision by Brookfield Rail does not stack up from an economic, environmental or safety perspective.

The visiting members were told that growers would have to pay at least $5 extra per tonne of grain between Quairading and Cunderdin to ship by road, and the extra handling, road degradation and safety impacts meant the road option was not a viable consideration, among other issues.

The members were shown a black spot site where grain trucks had collided on a narrow stretch of road between York and Quairading.

The group was told one of the drivers was trapped for four hours and was cut from wreckage.

They were also told the driver received leg injuries from the accident.

WRRA co-ordinator Jane Fuchsbichler told the members "that it was just a matter of time" before a serious accident would occur.

The members were then shown the Cunderdin to Quairading road, intended to be the designated grain route.

Ms Fuchsbichler said the road was still at least two years from completion. "This road is simply not fit for its intended purpose at this stage," she said.

Mr Jacobs said after seeing the conditions, he had a real sense of the problems caused by rail closures.

"We see the issue of using the roads and using rail and we try to assess that for ourselves," he said.

Mr Britza said the voices from fellow Liberal MPs on the grain on rail issue was "extremely loud".

"Our members need to come up here and hear the other side."

Mr Britza said before coming to the Wheatbelt, he had believed the decision on Tier 3 rail lines had already been made.

"Then I come out to the Wheatbelt and I am told it is a dollar issue," he said.

"In the end I am an emotive person, but I can't be moved on this issue by emotion or fear because I can't win an argument with that, so I have to look at the dollar angle."

Mr Britza said he felt the decision to close the rail and not consider other options was not good business.

He said he intended to raise the issue of tonnage capacity of rail against road and Brookfield's unwillingness to compromise.

Mr Abetz echoed Mr Britza's concerns, saying the commercial confidentiality of the Tier 3 agreement made it difficult to assess the viability of the Tier 3 lines.

"When I first heard about the Tier 3 issues I thought to myself if the rail is simply not viable then we have to upgrade the roads," he said.

But Mr Abetz said after researching the matter and realising the rail could revert to a user-pay agreement, his view had changed.

Mr Abetz said he believed a situation where the rail lines were not accessible because of a confidential agreement was "a moral issue".

"If a company could possibly take over unused Tier 3 lines then why aren't we doing it," he said.

"Because the amount we have to spend to upgrade the roads is a significant amount of money."

Quairading Shire president Darryl Richards said he was grateful the members had made the effort to visit and hear the concerns of the farming community.

"We've been trying to do our bit for the railway from the local government side but our efforts seem to have fallen on deaf ears," he said.

"We'd like to see something done about the rail lines because our community is on tender hooks about it at the moment."

York Shire president Ray Hooper said he was hopeful the members' visit would help to raise the political exposure of the entire transport network.

Mr Hooper said the rail transport needs for WA was a fluid situation and needed to be assessed on a yearly basis because projects like the proposed Brookton Hub to make a rail link between Brookton, Jarrahdale and Kwinana would change the route of grain on rail.

"No grain would be coming into the city so it would free up local and interstate rail," he said.

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