Buswell lands rail blow

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

If farmers want Tier 3 rail lines, they'll have to pay for it themselves.

That's the message from the State Government after Transport Minister Troy Buswell rejected recommendations from the Legislative Council standing committee that the Tier 3 lines stay open until the end of 2014 and that the Wheatbelt Development Commission undertake an economic review of the matter.

In his response to the committee, which was tabled in parliament this week, Mr Buswell said the lines were becoming substandard and Brookfield Rail had reservations about their safety.

"CBH and other parties have been advised that the Government does not object to private investment in the Tier 3 rail network," the response stated.

The lines are slated for closure in October, after the deadline has been repeatedly extended due to last season's bumper harvest but it now seems the lines' days are numbered.

There is little doubt that it is a huge blow for the supporters of Tier 3, who have waged a long-running war to keep grain on rail.

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance chairman Bill Cowan said the decision was very disappointing but it was no surprise.

Mr Cowan said he had met Mr Buswell, who had flagged his intention to reject both recommendations.

"When everything stacks up to be in favour of Tier 3, one wonders why he doesn't support it," he said.

"When something is as clear cut as this you just shake your head."

The Mt Walker farmer said fixing the Tier 3 lines would ultimately save growers and tax payers money but offloading the cost of upgrades to industry simply was not acceptable.

At the Nationals WA State Conference last weekend, a motion put by Mr Cowan calling for State Government investment to maintain and upgrade Tier 3 lines to safe and efficient operating standards was passed.

He warned the matter was likely to become an election issue.

"We're educating people in the city, particularly in marginal seats, about the rail situation," Mr Cowan said.

"I think it will come back and bite the Government come election time.

"Labor say they are working on (a funding plan). If that's the case maybe it's time to consider changing our vote."

Those sentiments were echoed by former WAFarmers Grains Council president Peter Wahlsten, who was also at the Nationals WA State Conference.

Mr Wahlsten is adamant that Tier 3 will become an election issue which the Nationals need to back.

He said CBH had given government every assurance it would use the lines, demonstrated by their multi-million dollar investment in rail wagons.

"It is very important those lines be maintained and grain gets shifted by rail," he said. "There is no way the roads will stand up to the extra traffic to shift the grain."

The details of any Labor Party plan to resurrect the Tier 3 are not available but opposition spokesman for transport Ken Travers said the party would make its position clear before an election.

"I'm beyond disappointed the Government wasn't prepared to listen to their own back bench about re-examining the economic viability of these lines," Mr Travers said.

"I certainly believe on face value there is a very strong case.

"We will make our position very clear before the election but that isn't until March next year.

"My focus is still on trying to get something done before then ... and whether we can keep the lines open because once they close it's going to become increasingly difficult to reopen them."

Regardless of Labor's position, Mr Cowan said the fight for Tier 3 was not over.

"One thing we aren't going to do is go away," he said.

CBH was contacted for comment. A spokesman said CBH remained committed to using the Tier 3 lines.

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