Grain rail breakthrough welcomed

The West Australian

Peak lobby group WAFarmers says a deal to keep grain on rail throughout next year is a huge relief for growers.

CBH and Brookfield Rail have signed off on a 12-month access deal starting from January 1.

The deal will ease fears of trucking hell on Wheatbelt roads as millions of tonnes of grain are carted to CBH receival points and on to ports. Wheatbelt shires facing an uphill battle to manage wear and tear on their roads if more grain is carted by truck have been advised a rail deal is close.

The year-long deal comes earlier than expected and is on similar terms to the existing agreement between the farmer-controlled co-operative and Brookfield Rail, which has an exclusive lease over the taxpayer-owned rail freight network.

The agreement covers all parts of the rail network currently used by CBH to cart grain, but there are strings attached with access to the ageing Miling line.

CBH said that to secure access it will need to meet a minimum volume which is greater than the current average of tonnes carted on the Miling line.

The co-operative also agreed to a fixed cost component which will increase freight rates for growers using six receival sites on the line.

CBH and Brookfield have been at loggerheads over a 10-year deal on access since 2013 and have already entered uncharted waters under WA's Rail Access Code.

WA's grain freight rail network ground to a halt in May when CBH and Brookfiled were unable to reach agreement on an access deal.

CBH was forced to remove its locomotives and wagons from the network before agreeing to a big price under the access deal, which expires on December 31.

CBH prepared back-up plans to cart all grain from storage facilities to port by truck in the lead-up to the May stand-off.

Grain growers and local governments feared a similar rail closure on New Year's Day after what has been a slow start to harvest because of wet conditions.

CBH had received 2.1 million tonnes of grain by the end of last week, with harvest about 15 per cent complete.

The latest interim deal comes with Brookfield's $8.9 billion bid for Asciano under scrutiny from Australia's competition watchdog.

CBH has been an outspoken critic of BR's handling of the rail lease and cited it as a reason why the Asciano takeover should not go ahead in the absence of tougher rules on access to key infrastructure.

The co-operative has warned its 4200 grower members they could face decades of uncertainty in getting their crops to port via rail.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said the new deal created certainty for growers.

"The agreement is a huge relief for farmers on the network as they can now focus solely on this season's harvest, " he said.

Mr Park said WAFarmers was pleased there would not be a repeat of the stand-off which forced CBH to remove its locomotives and wagons from the network for a short period in May.

The latest deal includes an access price rise in line with CPI following a big increase in May.

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