Wheatbelt rail lines to close

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

The worst fears of Wheatbelt communities were realised yesterday when Brookfield Rail announced the closure of two grain freight lines because of safety concerns.

The closure of the York to Quairading and Merredin to Trayning lines will create thousands of extra truck movements on roads as the Wheatbelt prepares for a bumper harvest.

Brookfield Rail chief executive Paul Larsen said a major derailment on the 116-year-old York to Quairading line last month and a lack of State Government investment were key factors in the decision.

"This is not a decision we have taken lightly, but in the absence of substantial investment from government to support a longer-term operation, Brookfield Rail is not satisfied the safe and sustainable operation of these two lines can be maintained past October 31," Mr Larsen said.

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"We are not doing this for politics. We are doing this because I have an obligation to run a safe business."

The future of the four remaining grain freight lines referred to as Tier 3 is in doubt as Brookfield and CBH continue talks.

Brookfield, which leases the lines from the Government, estimated three years ago it would cost $90 million to re-sleeper the ageing Tier 3 network.

Mr Larsen said he was confident of reaching an agreement with CBH to keep the remaining lines open for the harvest but they would need repairs.

Asked who would pay for the repairs, Mr Larsen said: "Ultimately the farmer pays for it because we will pay for it, but then we will need to recover that cost from CBH and CBH will recover it from farmers."

Brookfield notified the Department of Transport and local government authorities of the line closures yesterday.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell said it was up to Brookfield and CBH to reach an agreement on keeping the lines open.

Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance co-ordinator Jane Fuchsbichler said the Government had washed its hands of the problem.

"It is a huge road safety issue not just for rural people but anyone travelling on these roads," she said. "It also impacts on grain growers and one of the biggest export industries for this State."

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