CBH, Brookfield dispute off rails

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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CBH has accused Brookfield Rail of not giving farmers a fair go as their bitter dispute over access to WA's freight network heads to the powerful Economic Regulation Authority.

The co-operative's board met yesterday and agreed to instigate an ERA review of negotiations over access rates on rail lines controlled by Brookfield under an exclusive lease with the State Government.

CBH and Brookfield remain poles apart on an agreement covering all grain freight rail lines - Tier 1, 2 and 3 - after four months of tense negotiations, which have already involved a professional mediator.

"We went into the negotiations seeking two things - a fair price and fair performance as part of a sustainable supply chain for WA grain growers," CBH general manager of operations Dave Capper said yesterday.

"We've been unable to achieve that through direct negotiations so we will use the mechanism put in place by the Government to protect users of the rail network."

Under the provisions of the Railway Access Code, Brookfield will have seven days to respond with floor and ceiling prices and costs for each section once CBH lodges a proposal for access.

The code stipulates that the ERA oversees the rail leaseholder's costings and ensures fair access to the network. It also provides an arbitration framework.

Brookfield chief executive Paul Larsen said the company was looking forward to working with CBH and the ERA to resolve the dispute. Mr Larsen refused to comment on CBH's claims about farmers getting a raw deal.

The CBH move comes with the Government under pressure to reveal details of Brookfield's lease after sections of the ageing Tier 3 lines were closed for this year's bumper harvest.

CBH and Brookfield last week thrashed out a deal to keep key Tier 3 sections open until June 30, when the existing access deal on Tier 2 and 3 lines also expires.

"We just cannot justify entering into an agreement on behalf of growers that essentially costs more, and significantly more, for access to fewer tracks with diminishing performance," Mr Capper said. "WA growers need to be competitive with countries where supply chain costs are significantly lower. Even domestically, our cost for track access is higher than any other State.

"We expect that by seeking access to the network under the Code, growers will be able to continue to access a key piece of State infrastructure that is critical to the viability of the industry."

CBH has claimed that rail access fees are four times higher in WA than in other States.

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