A big harvest and closure of the York-Quairading and Trayning-Merredin Tier 3 railway lines is bringing to a head debate about the future of the narrow gauge grain network.

Pressure on inland grain storage is highlighting the importance of rail transport to the WA grain industry and the inadequacy of investment in the road and rail network by the state government and rail operator, Brookfield Rail.

Chairman of CBH, Neil Wandel is quoted in the West Australian as saying that the co-operative's biggest challenge was getting grain to port over the next 10 months. "Rail is still the safest and best way to move grain."  While record tonnages had been moved by rail already this harvest, it was still not enough and there was a need to increase the efficiency of the rail network, he said.

CBH and Brookfield are in dispute over the line closures as well as access fees and operating restrictions on others. Many thousands of heavy grain trucks are being forced onto substandard, inadequately maintained roads to keep the harvest moving.

Minister for Transport, Troy Buswell MLA, has not responded to repeated invitations by the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance to come to inspect for himself, the roads and rail lines in affected areas.

In a letter to Mr Buswell last month the WRRA  said, "Road safety and increased cost of freight for growers along with the inability to meet shipping schedules are ongoing issues. "It is imperative that you come and look at the situation during harvest to get a full understanding of our concerns," the letter said.

Member for the Central Wheatbelt, Mia Davies MLA, has maintained the government and the Nationals' response, claiming CBH would not use the railway lines even if money was spent on them. However, the Nationals only have to request the statistics from CBH to see that it is committed to using the Tier 3 lines. Many people feel let down first by Mr Grylls and now Ms Davies who have failed to show leadership on issues surrounding the Tier 3 lines and roads in the region.

Shadow Transport Minister, Ken Travers MLC, visited some affected areas with Member for the Agricultural Region, Darren West MLC, last month and said it was clear that roads had not been upgraded ahead of the closure of the York-Quairading and Trayning-Merredin lines.

Mr Travers said in a statement that, "It was a flawed decision to close the rail lines, but implementation of the policy was botched and is now a looming disaster. "During the trip to the Wheatbelt it was evident that road upgrades had not been completed and previous work had already deteriorated because there weren't enough funds to do the work properly."

Lindsay McNeill

ABOVE : A shunting error puts grain wagons off the line at York.