Farmers in rail line threat

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Angry Wheatbelt farmers have delivered a stern message to the Barnett Government to reopen crucial Tier 3 lines or face the wrath of the regional community.

A convoy of trucks headed by WAFarmers rolled into town from throughout the regions for a meeting with Brookfield Rail chief executive Paul Larsen on Tuesday, before carrying on to the city to deliver a letter to Transport Minister Dean Nalder demanding Tier 3 rail lines be kept open.

All Tier 3 lines closed on Tuesday.

As part of the demonstration, WAFarmers and the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance have called on the State Government and Brookfield Rail, which leases the lines from the Government, to act swiftly to reopen the lines, which cart grain from areas such as Quairading, Kulin and Narembeen.

Speaking before the demonstration, WAFarmers president Dale Park said the extra traffic caused by the convoy was what Perth drivers could expect from now on.

"Rail is the most efficient and safest way to cart grain, hands down," he said.

"Without Tier 3 rail, we lose an essential link in the grain transport network and force more trucks onto poorly maintained regional roads as well as crowded metropolitan roads, compromising everyone's road safety."

Mr Park said WAFarmers would be offering $1 a year to sub-lease the lines from Brookfield until the end of the 49-year lease.

"It's our opinion that Brookfield doesn't have the best interest of the growers at heart," he said.

"So if we offer to run the rail, we believe the amount of money we're paying in access fees for Tier 3 rail is more than it would cost for us to maintain and run the rail ourselves."

Alliance chairman Greg Richards said the groups had requested the lines be reopened until at least October 31 to allow for last season's record harvest to be delivered, pending the outcomes of both the Economic Regulation Authority investigation and Parliamentary Inquiry into the management of WA's freight rail network.

"Closing these lines is akin to shutting down the Mandurah-Perth rail line and putting all the commuters on buses — it just doesn't make sense," Mr Richards said.

"We need swift action to ensure farmers can get their grain to port in the most efficient way without the safety of regional and metropolitan road users being put at risk."

WAFarmers and WRRA warned today's demonstration was just a precursor to further and bigger action should a satisfactory outcome not be attained.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Mark McGowan accused the Barnett Government of breaking its election promises by shutting the lines.

"Before the last State election, only last year, the Premier Colin Barnett promised Tier 3 rail would remain open if it was viable," he said.

"Yet no analysis or at most very limited analysis has been done into the viability of Tier 3 rail and the Government has just proceeded to allow the lines to close."

Mr McGowan has also accused the Government of negligence over the administration of the rail.

"I think the closure of the rail lines will make the regional roads more dangerous, and also make the city roads more dangerous because more trucks will be on the road.

Speaking after the demonstration, Mr Park said he believed a point had been made.

"Today is just a taste of what it will be like when we stop putting grain on rail," he said.

"My worry is there are secret agreements between the Government and Brookfield that we don't know about," he said.

"It's the only reason I can see why these closures are happening."

Brookfield Rail was not available for comment, but have committed to reviewing WAFarmers' offer to take over the Tier 3 lines.

Mr Nalder was not available to accept the letter from WAFarmers.

End of the line

· It is estimated that the closure of Tier 3 rail lines will put between 60,000 and 85,000 extra truck movements onto WA roads.

· A 100,000 tonne grain bin would take around to 40 times more road to empty it than rail.

· Tier 3 rail lines deliver more than 1 million tonnes per year to bins.

· In recent weeks, Tier 3 rail lines have been delivering 6500 tonnes per day.

· The Liberal-National government privatised the rail network in 2000 for 49 years.

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