Minister in Tier 3 turnaround

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Tier 3 lines have been thrown a limited life line, after the Government backflip on plans to keep them closed this harvest.

The first of the lines closed in June but WA Transport Minister Troy Buswell has now left the door open for some of those lines to be used this harvest, after he conceded road upgrade programs would not be completed in time. It's exactly what growers and shire councils have been saying since last summer.

For the past 10 months shires and growers have been warning that getting all roads up to scratch for the coming harvest was an impossible feat.

Yet up until last month, Mr Buswell was resolute that the lines would remain closed.

That has now changed.

"The Government is doing two things - accelerating spending for the $105 million three-year road upgrade program and investigating the extension of the operational life of three Tier 3 Wheatbelt rail lines that went into care and maintenance in June this year," Mr Buswell said.

"We are looking at extending the operational life of the Quairading to York; Trayning to West Merredin and Bruce Rock to Yilliminning lines and I have asked Brookfield rail to advise whether it can undertake the required works to have the lines ready."

The decision has been applauded by the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA), which views the extension as an opportunity to continue the fight to save the Tier 3 lines.

But despite the 12 month extension, WRRA co-ordinator and Bruce Rock farmer Jane Fuchsbichler is sceptical roads will be ready for the following harvest.

"We do think this is a victory for common sense because the roads are quite obviously not up to the task," she said.

"Of course we're pleased and of course we would like (the extension) to be longer.

"The shires are telling us some of (the road network) will take five years to get ready.

"We still believe the economics of rail make sense and road safety and environmental issues all point to rail over road."

But the minister was quick to shoot down hopes he might change his mind on the long-term fate of the lines, claiming the extension wouldn't apply beyond this harvest. "I expect the roads will be completed to a satisfactory standard to carry freight during the 2012-13 harvest," he said.

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