Grain to hit the roads: CBH

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Grain that was slated for rail will flood onto roads this harvest because of the need to get grain to port and uncertainty over Tier 3 lines, grain handler CBH has warned.

QR National industrial action has also cast a shadow of doubt over the crucial grain delivery path.

CBH road and rail contracts manager Andrew Mencshelyi last week expressed frustration at the Government's timing in its decision to re-open the lines and warned that there would be more road transport used this harvest.

"The Government made that decision late that it was going to keep those (Tier 3) lines open," he said.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


"This has created issues with getting sites and rail lines ready, as well as for QR National to have supplementary rolling stock available for CBH, additional to that contracted under the agreement made prior to the Tier 3 decision."

State Transport Minister Troy Buswell in September announced a reprieve for this harvest for several of the Tier 3 lines.

The first of these lines closed in June. Until September, the State Government had been resolute that the lines would remain closed.

But it extended the life of several of the lines for this harvest only, because road upgrades would not have been ready and the forecast size of the crop.

Mr Buswell hit out at CBH's criticism of the WA Government's timing on the issue, saying the Government and CBH collaborated in the lead-up to the Tier 3 announcement.

"I find it incredulous that a company which has invested so much effort in lobbying Government to make this decision is complaining when this is the outcome it lobbied for," he said.

"Given CBH was kept informed throughout this process, I am surprised at its latest comments.

"The Government is urgently seeking a meeting with CBH to get an update on its proposed rolling stock, because we have heard reports there may be a 'gap' between arrangements with the existing supplier and the arrival of new rolling stock."

Mr Mencshelyi said CBH would be two trains short this harvest, because QR National already had its resources committed elsewhere.

He added that given the size of this year's crop, the train resources they did have would need to be used along main lines running to port rather than on feeder lines.

The impact of this would mostly be felt in the Merredin area, where 600,000 tonnes of grain is expected to be delivered. "At 50 tonnes per truck, this would equate to 24,000 truck movements over the next year if all of these tonnes were moved by road," Mr Mencshelyi said.

He said the grain would be split across many roads, depending on the route and which rail site the grain was being trucked to.

The Bruce Rock-Merredin road and Bruce Rock-Narambeen road would be the most affected, although trains would be run at harvest to keep the bins open on this line.

Compounding the problem over a lack of trains was the late start to harvest.

"Historically, we would have been moving harvest stocks in October/November. In real terms, a month worth of railing time has been lost due to the delay," Mr Mencshelyi said.

He also acknowledged that if the use of lines like the feeder lines into Merredin were not maximised ahead of their planned closure, then it would make it harder for CBH to push its case in support of Tier 3.

Industrial action from rail operator QR National was also a concern for CBH this harvest.

QR National train drivers have been striking sporadically since May this year. The strike action has forced thousands of tonnes of grain off rail and onto roads.

A QR National spokeswoman did not rule out the prospect of further industrial action, after its employees rejected its latest compromise offer.

"It is disappointing that the Rail, Tram and Bus Union will not support this offer after nearly a year of negotiating during which we addressed all of their issues and have met the pay rate increase claim of 16 per cent over three years," she said.

"We believe that this offer meets employees' expectations."

US-based rail carrier Watco is set to takeover from QR National next May.

According to CBH, the first of new wagons were expected to be assembled in China by this week.

Mr Mencshelyi said the new wagons would start to arrive in February next year and new locomotives should arrive by April.

Under its agreement with CBH, Watco is to provide 22 new locomotives and 574 wagons.

Meanwhile, the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance will present a petition in support of retention of grain on rail to Mr Buswell and Labor Transport spokesman Ken Travers on the steps of Parliament House at 1pm today.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails