Growers fear roads won’t cope

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Growers are bracing for grain-freight chaos this harvest, with more trucks forced onto substandard roads in the wake of Tier 3 closures.

The first of the Tier 3 lines, from Wickepin through Corrigin to Bruce Rock, has already closed, denied a lifeline by Transport Minister Troy Buswell, who last week ruled out revisiting an industry proposal spearheaded by CBH to keep the lines open.

Mr Buswell said his decision not to divert funding back to road did not preclude further investment, by future governments into the rail network.

“In most cases, the Tier 3 lines have not been used for quite some time, and roads have handled a significant amount of freight movements, ” he said.

“It is critical these roads are upgraded to ensure their safety… and these upgrades will be done as efficiently as possible, with a view to minimising disruption to farmers.”

But with funding yet to be released by Main Roads for necessary road upgrades and just a couple of months to get narrow, gravel roads up to scratch for this harvest, Corrigin Shire chief executive Julian Murphy said it’s simply not going to happen in time.

While Mr Murphy said the Shire had been allocated enough money by Main Roads and had already sourced materials, they had waited to see whether money allocated to roads would be redirected back to rail by Mr Buswell.

With that prospect now shot down, truck drivers are simply going to have to make do with substandard roads, or take the long way around to cart grain this harvest.

“We can’t build 30km of road in one year, it’s beyond our capacity, ” Mr Murphy said.

“Anyone involved with Main Roads or local government knows there is no way it can be done.

“Trucks are only getting bigger and we’ve got concerns about safety issues and the amount of grain on road — our road system hasn’t been tested yet against the amount of road movements that they’re planning to put on there.”

Just down the road in Yealering, farmers Graeme Manton and Craig Jespersen have serious concerns about Yealering-Bulyee Road.

As they walk a stretch of gravel, barely wide enough for two trucks and with numerous blind bends, they say there is no way the road will cope with additional freight this summer.

Graeme said that last summer, with grain still on rail and one of the worst harvests on record, the gravel road had too many potholes to count, with the sand underneath emerging through to prevent travel over 60km/h.

“You would have been lucky to drive a car down it, ” he said.

“People were trying to find other back roads to try to bypass this road, but those roads are small sidetracks which shouldn’t have large trucks on them anyway.

“There’s even been blokes take their own gear out to grade the road and clean it up so you can keep driving up it.”

The issue isn’t necessarily about CBH using the road to outload grain, but about how the impact of losing rail will alter which bin growers choose to deliver to.

“Farmers south of Bulyee all cart along this road, ” Craig said.

“(CBH) won’t be able to get trains in to clear grain out of the Yealering bin, (so) we may have less segregations (there) — that means more segregations at Bulyee.

“Then we have to cart grain ourselves over to Bulyee using this road. It doubles the traffic compared to what it used to be.

“We will have to cart more grain over here rather than 10km down the road to Yealering.”

Neither grower can believe the Government chose to close rail lines before having the roads ready, but the fact is the Bulyee road is just one of the many narrow, gravel roads affected by Tier 3 closure.

Across in the Kondinin Shire, farmer Gary Repacholi fears they will be in the same situation come 2013, when the Kondinin to Narembeen and Merredin rail line shuts.

Even with a couple of extra years notice, Gary said he could not see how the Kondinin Shire could get the roads ready in time and said he was disappointed Mr Buswell hasn’t even come to inspect the situation.

“The Government, when they investigated (Tier 3 closures) said all roads would be upgraded to road train standards before they closed any rail and I can’t see them doing that, ” he said.

“We won’t have any reasonable highways to drive on because the maintenance won’t be put there… (and) they haven’t really planned who is going to pay for it in the future.

“If it’s heavy road users, such as through truck licensing, country people will be hit again.”

Mr Buswell said he would visit some Wheatbelt towns in the coming months.

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