Tier 3 lines to remain on track

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

In what is being billed as yet another backflip on the future of the Tier 3, the State Government has announced the rail lines will remain open until at least October next year.

Scheduled to close before this harvest, the lines will now be used after negotiations at a meeting between Transport Minister Troy Buswell, CBH and Brookfield Rail last month.

The door has been left open to keep the lines operating indefinitely after Mr Buswell said the Government would work with "all parties to facilitate a sustainable arrangement to keep Tier 3 lines operational".

"Brookfield and CBH will continue ongoing dialogue on the transport of grain by rail and, if economically viable, keep Tier 3 lines operational in the future," he said.

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This time last year the State Government also backflipped on closing the lines and after closing the first lines in June decided in September to keep them open until after the 2011-12 harvest.

Back then, Mr Buswell conceded works to get roads up to scratch before handling the grain freight task could not be completed in time.

But this time Tier 3 proponents fear the Government's decision to keep the lines open smacks of political manoeuvring.

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance chairman Bill Cowan said while it was good news the lines would remain open for at least 12 months, it did not mean the fight was over.

"It's good because if they closed it would be hard to reopen them," he said.

"But it's a ploy to keep the issue out of the headlines until the election is over - it's buying (the Government) some time.

"The good thing is it will give CBH a chance to make their figures known and show how efficient the lines can be.

"But no matter how successful CBH is with their numbers, the question is, will the Government listen?"

CBH operations manager David Capper said the stay of execution for the lines gave the grain handler 12 months to negotiate a long-term solution with the Government and Brookfield Rail.

He said the lines were in a suitable condition to be considered viable for this harvest but would need work in the future.

"They do need maintenance but they don't necessarily need the same kind of maintenance as the other lines," he said.

Mr Capper said CBH could develop a lower cost maintenance regime for the Tier 3 lines reflective of the fewer tonnes they carried compared to Tier 1 and 2 lines.

National MLCs Philip Gardiner and Max Trenorden were critical of Mr Buswell's announcement, saying in reality it just deferred a decision without any Government investment commitment.

They said the merit for investment in Tier 3 was already demonstrated and clear.

"The announcement … the Tier 3 lines were to remain open until at least October 2013 without a definite commitment from the Government in regard to furnishing an investment strategy for the Government to bring the lines back to a performance standard which is 'fit for purpose', as outlined in schedule 4 of the lease agreement, is at best overlooking the merits of the issue and at worst demonstrating shallow political expediency," Mr Gardiner said.


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