Opinion: The McGowan Government has laid the tracks for Tier 3 to reopen

Noel Bairstow Countryman
Lake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow. Cally Dupe
Camera IconLake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow. Cally Dupe Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

Grain growers on the Narrogin to Kulin Tier 3 rail line will have welcomed the recent announcement by WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti of the funding allocation of $72 million to rebuild this rail line.

This is the first win farmers have had in the 22 years since the rail network was sold.

No doubt the growing awareness of the cost of closing these lines — in terms of road damage, road accidents, carbon emissions and farmers’ freight bills — has helped sway the decision.

But the other hidden cost of rail over road efficiency has also become obvious.

What is it? The “lost opportunity cost” of the WA grain harvest not being able to be transported and loaded fast enough to be sold before the start of the massive northern hemisphere harvest.

As our grain harvest has grown from 10 to 15 million tonnes to 15 to 25 million tonnes in recent years, our rail system has failed to keep up with production.

This problem has been compounded with the sale and lease of the WA rail network in 2000 for 49 years, and the subsequent shut down of the Tier 3 lines by 2014.

Those lines are today needed to help move up to a quarter of our annual harvest.

Arguments it was not viable to upgrade these lines, or that it was not possible to reach agreement with the leasehold owners, have now proved to be a a strawman argument.

For too long, CBH has hidden behind modelling where we could not challenge the methodology or assumptions which justified their position that the numbers did not add up.

Today we all have to ask, what are the numbers that makes all these old lines viable again?

We, for the first time, can see the basis of an equation of the additional tonnages that are needed to justify the cost of reinstating the lines.

In this case, the back of the envelope equation is east Wickepin Kaolin mine adds the additional one million tonnes to justify the 50km of line.

We suspect it is far less than that and in fact when benchmarked against other rail investments, a heavy public good discount should be included.

Of instance, if governments will fund $72 million for approximately 50km of rural line in WA, and $5.7 billion for 72km of Metronet lines (and $14 billion for 1700km of the Melbourne Brisbane inland rail line) then no doubt they can justify funding the remaining 700km of Tier 3 lines in WA at a cost of around $1 billion.

As growers we should all thank this Labor State Government for listening to us on grain rail freight and look forward to working with them to finish the job and reverse the closures that the Court Liberal and National State Government sold and closed.

Noel Bairstow is a Lake Grace farmer

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