Shock deal keeps grain on rail

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
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Brookfield and CBH have signed off on a surprise deal that will keep grain on the WA rail network throughout this season’s harvest.

They are understood to have agreed a 12-month interim rail access agreement beginning from January 1 — the day after the existing interim agreement expires.

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 that a rail deal is close.

The 12-month deal comes earlier that 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.

It applies to all sections of the network currently in use by CBH, including the Miling line which had been under a cloud. All lines classified as Tier 3 will remain closed.

WA’s grain freight rail network ground to a halt in May when CBH and BR 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 to 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.

CBH and BR 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.

2400The number of kilometres in WA’s rail freight network dedicated to carting grain

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