Labor vows to re-open Tier 3

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The Labor Party has vowed to "do what is necessary" to re-open Tier 3 railway lines if elected.

Signalling a hard-line policy shift for Labor on the Tier 3 issue, Opposition Transport Minister Ken Travers said if his party was elected at the next election, it wouldn't be afraid of "getting its hands dirty" at the negotiating table with Brookfield Rail.

He said he would work hard to broker an outcome that was in the best interests of State development.

All Tier 3 lines were closed on June 30 last year, meaning thousands of extra grain trucks travelling on crumbling Wheatbelt roads to shift this year's 14 million tonne bumper harvest.

But Mr Travers said the State Government appears to have not learnt anything from last year's damning parliamentary committee report.

Key findings of the report were for the State Government to be able to reclaim unused Tier 3 lines, for changes to the network lease to ensure lines could not be suspended without consequences and for the Public Transport Authority to be more active in managing the freight network lease in the future.

"The only way we're going to resolve this issue is to have Brookfield, CBH and the State Government in the room at the same time negotiating an outcome," Mr Travers said.

"If you look at everything that was revealed in the report, it's now clear that you need to have the Government at the negotiating table as part of those negotiations.

"For the Government to just sit out and wait for Brookfield and CBH to broker a deal really just confirms they have no intention of honouring their election commitment to keep the Tier 3 lines open."

_Countryman _ understands the negotiations are likely to begin this month and CBH and Brookfield will have 90 days to broker a deal.

"How can CBH and Brookfield negotiate if they're not told what the Government are prepared to put on the table to get these lines open?" Mr Travers said.

Mr Travers also said that without State Government involvement, Brookfield maintenance costs could be left unchecked.

Last week, Brookfield chief executive Paul Larsen said the cost to reopen about half of the State's viable Tier 3 lines could be more than $50 million.

"If the Government is there demanding the evidence and demanding independent costing as part of that negotiation to work out what is actually needed to get those lines open, it could end up being an unnecessary cost burden to the State's economy," Mr Travers said.

"If there was one thing the committee highlighted in its report, it was the lack of actual involvement at Government level up to this point. And this is part of the reason we've got into this problem, we haven't had ministers prepared to get their hands dirty in trying to resolve this issue."

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Dean Nalder said the State Government would continue to await the outcome of the access negotiations.

"The State Government remains hopeful that both parties will agree on a mutually beneficial arrangement as soon as possible," he said.

"There is a significant amount of investment required for each of the Tier 3 rail lines to make them 'fit for purpose' (train operations), and that investment is the subject of ongoing negotiations between CBH and Brookfield Rail."

Mr Nalder also said the State Government was committed to keeping open commercially viable Tier 3 rail lines, and also remained committed to a viable grain freight transport network that encompassed a mix of road and rail transport.

"To demonstrate this, the Government has invested $163 million in re-sleepering viable Tier 1 and 2 rail lines," he said.

"And since 2011-12, the Government has provided over $250 million for roads used to transport grain with further funding to be provided in the future.

"Most of this funding (approximately $158 million) has been in the Wheatbelt Region that will be impacted by the closure of Tier 3 lines.

"The State Government is also working on a co-ordinated response to a parliamentary inquiry into the management of WA's freight rail network and this response will be tabled when Parliament resumes in February."

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