Farmers cross over crossing

Cate RocchiThe West Australian
Kondinin shire president Lindsay Tuckwell.
Camera IconKondinin shire president Lindsay Tuckwell. Credit: The West Australian

Farmers with land near the Avon to Albany rail line, run by Brookfield Rail, are worried about their future legal and financial responsibilities concerning rail crossings.

Letters accompanied by a survey about the rail crossings on their land, sent by Brookfield, have also upset them.

Some fear there is a hidden agenda behind the survey that asks for information, including how often crossings are used.

Furthermore, farmers are anxious that Brookfield plans to close crossings and worry they may be liable for accidents on the crossings.

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In a statement issued by Brookfield last week, the company reported it was not seeking to close any level crossings that were "still frequently in use or provide sole access to a property".

The statement did not say how the company defined "frequent".

State Opposition transport spokesman Ken Travers said farmers with rail crossings on their land from Avon to Albany who received the Brookfield letter needed clarity about future costs.

He said he appreciated Brookfield had legal obligations with regards to the crossings, but was worried if upgrades and future ongoing maintenance is required, farmers might be left footing the bill.

"While Brookfield leased the lines, the WA Government owned them and the Government should ensure farmers were not unfairly penalised in the future," he said.

He said a report in 2013 by the WA Auditor General (Management of the Rail Freight Network Lease: Twelve Years Down the Track) made it clear the State Government had legal obligations to all stakeholders and just because Brookfield had the lease, it did not mean the Government was without responsibility.

_Countryman _ contacted the Minister for Transport Dean Nalder but did not receive a response.

One farmer, who did not want to be named, said he and his neighbour received a letter saying they owned a private level crossing.

Prior to that, he had not been aware he owned the rail crossing and doubted both he and his neighbour both owned it.

The same farmer also received a Brookfield fridge magnet with safety tips. One advises contacting train control, for authorisation, each time he drove a large or slow-moving vehicle over the rail crossing.

The farmer said it would be ridiculous to have to ring up an official every time he moved a tractor, but wanted to know that if he did not notify officials, whether he would be liable if there was an accident.

WA Farmers Federation president Dale Park said the association was seeking legal advice.

"The letter looks as though Brookfield want (to) reduce the number of rail crossings that farmers have," he said.

In the letter to farmers on the Avon to Albany line, Brookfield wrote that the Rail Safety Act 2010 places obligations on road managers and rail infrastructure managers.

"At level crossings where risks need to be managed jointly, each party is required to enter into an interface agreement," the company wrote.

In addition, many Wheatbelt shires have been sent correspondence from Brookfield about maintenance.

This is believed to have caused some heated debates in country shire meetings.

Kondinin Shire deputy president Lindsay Tuckwell said the shire was asked to sign a rail interface agreement with Brookfield regarding rail crossings.

"We are not keen to sign an agreement which states that Brookfield will decide if maintenance is required; Brookfield will carry out the maintenance and the Shire of Kondinin will be billed for that work," she said.

"As shire councillors, we need to budget our works program and unexpected accounts, where we have had no control over the cost, would be unacceptable."

Mrs Tuckwell said the shire was still researching the issue.

Yilgarn Shire president Onida Truran said the shire had not signed and she was concerned about extra unbudgeted costs.

The issue was discussed recently at a Great Eastern Country Zone meeting in Merredin.

WA Local Government Association policy officer road safety Mel Shervill attended and is believed to have spoken on the topic.

Brookfield confirmed correspondence had been sent to 300 private landowners.

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