Interim rail deal puts harvest back on track

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

An 11th hour deal will keep most of the ageing grain freight rail lines in the Wheatbelt open for this year's bumper harvest, but it is only a temporary reprieve for farmers, local communities and road users.

All of the lines referred to as Tier 3 are set to close on June 30 next year unless there is a breakthrough in the stand-off between the State Government, Brookfield Rail and CBH.

The interim deal, expected to be signed within days, will keep the Kondinin to Merredin line and the Kulin line operating for this harvest, which is expected to top 13 million tonnes in a $4 billion boost for the WA economy.

No grain will be carted on a 100km stretch of line between Wickepin and Bruce Rock, adding to the strain on roads created by the official closure of the Trayning to Merredin and Quairading to York lines next week.

The line at Wickepin was in use this week and shire president Steve Martin said he could not see why it had to stop carrying grain next month. The Wickepin-Bruce Rock section will stay open to trains pulling empty wagons.

"We have trains on there now but have been told in two weeks the lines aren't fit for purpose and we don't understand why," Mr Martin said. "It is not going to deteriorate more in a fortnight."

Wickepin is gearing up for a record harvest, with farmers expected to deliver about 90,000 tonnes to the local receival bin.

It is understood Brookfield, which leases the State's rail network, and CBH, which pays Brookfield access fees, re-opened talks on Wickepin yesterday.

Mr Martin said he suspected the uncertainty was tied to a push for funding and the issues between the Government, Brookfield and CBH over the future of grain rail freight.

"I don't want to apportion blame to Brookfield, CBH or the Government but we (the shire) are stuck in-between," he said.

Mr Martin said as a farmer he was not against road freight. He wanted a system that moved grain quickly and cheaply, but it was inevitable that the demise of the rail network would see more and bigger trucks on local roads that were not up to the task.

Tier 3 lines have deteriorated to the point where operations are severely compromised.

However, they are expected to carry about 600,000t to June 30 and play a vital role once grain begins to flood into receival points next month. The condition of the lines has already hit farmers in the hip pocket through higher freight premiums.

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