Tier 3 rail an election hot potato

Haidee VandenbergheThe West Australian

Tier 3 lines will struggle to continue to carry grain after this year without a significant cash injection, according to an auditor- general report released last week.

In the report, Auditor-General Colin Murphy found not enough was being done to protect the State's rail assets into the future and the remaining eight Tier 3 lines were "likely to be taken out of service" after 2013 unless the Government committed money to save them.

The report also alluded to the bungling of the leasing process of the State's freight rail lines, which had the Public Transport Authority manage the rail lease for 12 years without a formal risk-based contract management plan.

"While ongoing government funding was anticipated at the time of the lease it was not quantified, so it is not possible to conclude whether actual levels of support are more or less than originally estimated," Mr Murphy said.

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Documentary evidence uncovered during the report process indicated an additional $400 million commitment was made by the successful bidder during the tender process, but was not then incorporated into the lease.

The report stated there was no record as to why it wasn't.

Five-yearly performance reviews anticipated in the lease have also not occurred.

"Despite the ongoing significant scale of this public investment, limited information has been made available to Parliament and the public regarding the lease and the condition of the rail freight assets," he said.

The Tier 3 issue is continuing to prove a political hot potato as candidates jostle for position in the face of an impending State election.

Despite the fact the Nationals WA has committed to throwing its support behind the Liberals, candidates from the two parties have differing views when it comes to the future of Tier 3 rail.

Nationals Central Wheatbelt candidate Mia Davies wants to see another independent review of the network to clarify its running costs compared to road.

Without a review she does not support further government spending.

By contrast, Liberal candidate and Bruce Rock farmer Stephen Strange has vowed to not only keep the lines open, but to improve them.

The situation has prompted the Labor Party to ask which commitments will be kept under a Liberal-headed government.

It is the issue that simply won't go away for the Government - and is causing Nationals stalwarts from the party's traditional heartland to question their loyalty.

Mt Walker farmer Mr Cowan was the area's previous Nationals president and a former member of the State Council.

Support for the Nationals has always run deep for the Cowan family, but come March's election Bill Cowan is running as an independent against Nationals candidates.

He joins disillusioned former Nationals Max Trenorden and Phil Gardiner, who are both also running as independents in the Legislative Council.

All three candidates are pushing a pro-grain-on-rail agenda in the face of what Mr Cowan described as growing resentment in the agricultural region towards the Nationals.

"I believe the National Party has lost sight of its core electorate and the people who vote for them," he said.

"I don't know how many times Tier 3 has to be proven it's viable - if (Ms Davies) was dinkum and listened to the people in the electorate then they would do something about it.

"As it is at least (Liberal candidate) Stephen Strange is genuine in what he wants to do, even if he has a party that won't back him in that.

"If the Liberals came out and said they would fix Tier 3 they would no doubt win the seat," Mr Cowan said.

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