Rally targets rail line closures

Bob Garnant and Claire TyrrellCountryman

About 50 people concerned about extra truck movements on WA roads due to the closure of Tier 3 rail lines protested at Parliament House last week.

A 4000-signature petition to keep the lines open was presented to Premier Colin Barnett.

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) chairman Bill Cowan introduced five speakers who explained why the human cost of rail transport changes would ultimately be too high.

Mr Cowan said the Wheatbelt had the highest traffic combined injury and casualty rate in WA.

Curtin University professor Brett Hughes said keeping Tier 3 lines open would help keep the road toll down.

"About 190 people die on WA roads every year and the economic costs are 685 times that figure," he said. "One of the solutions is to keep grain on the rail."

State Transport Minister Troy Buswell earlier this year extended the life of several Tier 3 lines until next October, to accommodate grain movement this harvest.

Mr Buswell, who was criticised for his absence at last week's rally, reaffirmed the Government's commitment to shifting grain to roads in Tier 3 areas.

"We are spending $110 million to upgrade those roads in country areas, which will ensure that when grain is moved to those rail bulk heads it is done as safely as possible," he said.

"We made a decision that there is a group of rail lines taxpayers have been subsidising for a long time.

"We've come up with a solution - trucks in those areas will move grain to rail bulk heads and from there that grain will be moved by CBH."

Mr Buswell said the State Government planned to spend $310 million on the State's roads and rail lines over the next three years.

Shadow Transport Minister Ken Travers reminded protesters of the widespread impact the Tier 3 decision would have.

"The campaign to save the Wheatbelt grain rail lines from closure is important for both rural and metropolitan communities," Mr Travers said.

"In Parliament this week, Mr Buswell refused to guarantee the Perth metropolitan area would not see an increase in trucks on the roads following the closure of Wheatbelt rail lines.

"People in the Wheatbelt recognised this was a bad decision from the start and their campaign is now gaining support across the metropolitan area."

Mr Travers hit out at the State Government's Brookton Strategy, which involved the closure 700km of rail line to be replaced by trucks carrying grain to rail heads at Brookton and Kellerberrin.

"Industry expressed grave concerns with the strategy because it would involve expensive double handing at the rail heads," he said.

"This would make it more likely that trucks will travel the relatively short distance directly to the Forrestfield or Kwinana grain terminals, resulting in thousands more trucks on WA roads every year.

"If it were taken off the rail system, a single 30,000-tonne grain vessel would require more than 1000 truck movements on WA roads."

Tier 3 rail lines extended until this harvest were the Quairading to York line, Trayning to Merredin line and Bruce Rock to Yilliminning line.

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