Miling farmers fear future on rail at stake

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Miling farmers fear they have been forgotten by Arc Infrastructure and CBH, as the two companies tussle over a long-term access agreement and authorities launch an investigation into a train derailment.

It was after 2pm last Wednesday when a CBH-owned locomotive carting 1400 tonnes of barley derailed from the tracks of the Tier 2 line and tipped, with the driver and grain unharmed.

A crack in the line.
Camera IconA crack in the line. Credit: Supplied

The train was being driven by a WATCO driver along the Arc-owned line, which is only used by CBH to cart grain from its upcountry sites to Kwinana Grain Terminal.

An investigation is under way to determine what caused the incident, but images obtained by Countryman appear to show a crack in the rail line.

The incident was the first derailment this year, but there were three mail line derailments across Arc’s network last year, two of which occurred on the Esperance Branch Line after flash flooding and one on the Eastern Goldfields Railway Line, according to Arc.

Last week’s accident has compounded local farmers’ concerns, with Shire of Moora president and Miling farmer Ken Seymour saying he believed the lengthy arbitration process was holding up investment in the rail line and the local Miling bin.

“We have been waiting for a substantial upgrade (to the CBH’s Miling recieval point) for more than a decade,” he said.

“Miling is on CBH’s list, but things like the arbitration have slowed it down. In this day and age arbitration should not take three to four years.”

Shire of Moora president and Miling farmer Ken Seymour.
Camera IconShire of Moora president and Miling farmer Ken Seymour. Credit: Astrid Volzke

Miling farmer Tony White also said he believed the arbitration process had brought major upgrade plans to a standstill.

“Farmers are carting further and further and further, most of our grain goes to Moora and Bindi now,” he said.

CBH and Arc have been at loggerheads over a 10-year deal on access since 2013, and have already entered uncharted waters under WA’s Rail Access Code.

The two companies struck their second one-year interim rail access agreement to start from January 1 — the day after the existing interim agreement expired.

CBH triggered an arbitration process with Arc in February 2016, after formal negotiations to gain long-term access to Arc’s freight rail network failed.

An independent arbitrator had been expected to resolve the deadlock by the end of last year, but negotiations have remained stalled and it has now been more than three years of arbitration with no long-term agreement.

Leaders of both companies last year declared the arbitrator’s decision as final.

Countryman understands while Arc will be bound by the arbitrated outcome, CBH would have the option to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.

When questioned about CBH’s commitment to the Miling recieval point, CBH operations general manager Ben Macnamara said it remained one of the company’s core 100 sites which received “the bulk of the annual crop”.

“We cannot invest in all Network Strategy sites at once, and not all sites will receive funding for expansion or throughput upgrades as some are currently meeting grower needs,” he said.

“For Miling, most recently, we invested in emergency storage to provide a barley service for the 2018-19 harvest.

“Our current plan is to expand Miling and we are currently seeking to remove constraints to enable this.”

Arc commercial and development general manager Nathan Speed said the company continued to work well with CBH to shift grain on rail.

“Arc Infrastructure completes annual and regular maintenance on the Miling to Toodyay main line appropriate for its traffic,” Mr Speed said.

“This year the Miling-Toodyay line has seen a total of 36 trains with 28 travelling from Miling and eight from Calingiri.”

The locomotive was still where it derailed on Tuesday, with wet conditions hampering removal efforts, but it was expected to be removed this week.

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