Rail closures to create road safety nightmare

Beatrice ThomasThe West Australian
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Residents in 16 Wheatbelt shires as well as those near major highways in Perth have been warned to brace for a road safety nightmare as the pending closure of more than 700km of grain rail lines adds an extra 57,000 trucks to the road each year.

The recently formed Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance claims the State Government’s decision to close the Tier 3 branch lines in the central Wheatbelt, possibly as early as the end of June, would shift 1.4 million tonnes of grain — about 90 per cent of grain grown near the lines — to an ageing and substandard road network.

It says city residents can expect more congestion on roads into the Kwinana and Forrestfield grain terminals, including the Albany, Brookton, Great Eastern, Tonkin and Roe highways and Thomas Road, with country residents set to confront the road safety issues from more heavy haulage vehicles on narrow country roads.

WAFarmers Merredin zone president and alliance chairman Bill Cowan said yesterday that the necessary road upgrades were shaping up to cost more than $300 million — well over the $118 million announced by the Government last year.

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He said it was wrong to assume grain currently carted on the Tier 3 lines would at any point be transferred to standard gauge rail lines for the journey to Perth.

The Government, which has earmarked $187.9 million for upgrades to Tier 1 and 2 grain rail lines on top of $135 million in Federal funding, has said the Tier 3 lines would be put into “care and maintenance”, which is roundly viewed as taking them out of service.

Dumped transport minister Simon O’Brien, who conceded in response to questions in Parliament last month that rail was “generally considered to be safer than road”, had maintained companies were increasingly trucking grain by road and the Government’s strategy was to accommodate this.

But CBH general manager of operations Colin Tutt said yesterday it wanted to keep grain on rail and was looking for efficiencies to make this happen.

CBH and new US partner Watco announced a $175 million investment in rolling stock last year.

Modelling by the Strategic Grain Network in 2009 found not keeping the Tier 3 lines would save $93.5 million.

Shadow transport minister Ken Travers said the numbers did not stack up and labelled the closure reckless and without proper analysis. York shire president Pat Hooper said he was concerned the trucks would be sharing roads with school buses.

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