Buswell dismisses plan to save Tier 3 lines

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Last ditch attempts to save the Tier 3 rail lines look destined to fail, after Transport Minister Troy Buswell dismissed an industry plan to keep grain on rail.

In less than 24 hours, the first of the Tier 3 lines — Bruce Rock-Yilliminning, York-Quairading and Trayning-Merredin — which CBH, WestNet Rail, ARG and producers had fought for years to save, will close.

On Monday, CBH revealed it had submitted a proposal to the State Government to keep the lines open by transferring State money allocated towards upgrading roads surrounding Tier 3 receival points back to the rail lines.

A $352 million funding package announced last year for the grain rail network included $118.3 million to help Wheatbelt roads cope with increased freight haulage, but CBH believes that money could be better spent on the ageing Tier 3 rail lines.

Two years ago, the Strategic Grain Network Report found carting grain on the Tier 3 lines was $78 million more expensive than carting by road.

CBH has since negotiated a contract with rail provider Watco and conducted another review of the Tier 3 lines.

CBH claimed that under the new arrangement with Watco, rail was $9.4 million cheaper than road.

CBH rail and road contract manager Andrew Mencshelyi told Countryman on Monday the Department of Transport had ticked off on the proposal and it would be forwarding it to Mr Buswell for consideration this week.

But hours after that conversation, Mr Buswell’s office said the Minister had little intention of transferring the funds from road to rail.

“Following a preliminary review of the business case put forward by CBH, it is my view that it contains nothing which will lead to the Government changing its investment plans for the State’s grain freight network, ” Mr Buswell said.

CBH was unaware that the minister did not support its proposal.

Mr Mencshelyi said transferring the money from road to rail would keep Tier 3 lines running for another 15 years.

It would also allow CBH to upgrade the Merredin transfer depot, which handles about 650,000 of the one million tonnes of grain transported along the lines.

Mr Mencshelyi said some temporary resleepering of sections of the Tier 3 lines would be needed until WestNet could begin substantial resleepering works in 2013.

WestNet, which endorsed CBH’s proposal, had agreed to continue charging CBH a discounted access fee for the next 15 years.

“There’s been a fair bit of work done by industry in the last six months to get this business case up to Government, ” Mr Mencshelyi said.

“We’ve inspected all the Tier 3 track with Watco.

“CBH has done a lot of analysis on the economics with the new rolling stock and WestNet has done a lot of analysis on what it can charge and what it would cost to maintain and operate them in the interim, plus the resleepering.”

Mr Mencshelyi said CBH’s proposal would have kept all but the Gnowangerup and Nyabing lines in the Albany zone open.

Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRRA) chairman Bill Cowan admitted time was running out to save the lines.

With other WRRA members, Mr Cowan met Mr Buswell on Tuesday to discuss CBH’s proposal.

Mr Cowan said the Minister had concerns that investing in rail did not necessarily equate to growers choosing to put their grain on the rail and the Government may need to continue subsidising rail.

Mr Cowan said he could understand Mr Buswell’s perspective that the business case put forward by CBH needed more work.

“We’re going to try to convince all parties to make their (business) case to the Minister better and that’s the only thing we can do, ” Mr Cowan said.

“Whether that’s too late for Troy Buswell … (and) how long that’s going to take us, I don’t know. I’m personally a bit disappointed. I think we are running out of time.”

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