The past month has seen a number of new developments impacting on the fight to save the Tier 3 grain rail network in the central wheatbelt.

These included the resignation of the former state Treasurer and Minister for Transport, appointment of Dean Nalder MLA as the new Minister and the announcement that a government standing committee would look into the lease and management of the WA rail network.

These developments coupled with the enquiry by the state government Economic Regulatory Authority (ERA) has given renewed hope that the Tier 3 network might remain open and receive a much needed upgrade.

The WA Farmers Federation president Dale Park said it was hoped the appointment of a new Minister for Transport would give the government cause to review its stance on the grain freight network. Mr Buswell had been in control of the transport portfolio when many rail lines had  become dilapidated and a major dispute over access had arisen. WAFF hoped the new Minister might be more of an arbiter to make sure things were fair, he said.

On 12 March 2014, the government Economics and Industry Standing Committee resolved to inquire in to the lease of the whole rail network. Chairman, Ian Blayney, said the inquiry was autonomous and would cover the current lease arrangements and the management of the WA freight network. He said the committee would advertise for public submissions on the matter.

Shire president Mathew Reid said the York Shire was disappointed that the scope for the inquiry into the grain freight network wasn't broader so more issues could be examined.

Bruce Rock Shire president, Stephen Strange, said the lease agreement was a major issue and urged the new Transport Minister to play a more central role in resolving problems  with the grain freight network.

Chairman of the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance, Bill Cowan, said the Alliance
always claimed that if Tier 3 rail lines were scrapped, then Tier 2 lines would be next  on the list. He said the government needed to see that part of the rail access fee went into maintaining the lines. Even now Tier 3 lines were cheaper than any road transport, he said.

WRRA co-ordinator, Jane Fuchsbichler, said the capacity to handle grain at the state's ports was being hindered by a bottleneck in the transport of grain in the Wheatbelt. Tier three rail were the tip of an iceberg with Tier 2 lines being downgraded, lowering grain carrying capacity.

CBH General Manager of Operations, David Capper, said that CBH was particularly concerned with the Tier 3 rail network currently leased by the WA government to Brookfield Rail for 50 years. The Economics and Industry Standing Committee would bring transparency to the issue. It would be good to see reinforcement of recommendations made by the Auditor-General last year.

Labor Member for the Agricultural Region Darren West said an inquiry into the grain freight network would give the WA Government a chance to come clean on its lease agreement with Brookfield Rail and hoped the inquiry would keep the rail network open.

WA Opposition Minister for Transport Ken Travers said the inquiry would be a  test as to whether the WA Government was prepared to co-operate. If Brookfield did not  want to operate some lines he wanted to ensure they were available for other operators to run. When there is a monopoly, there needs to be rigorous assessment to ensure the operator is not making excessive profits. That is the role of the ERA, he said.

In a press statement local member, Mia Davies MLA said “My colleagues and I have been in frequent contact with industry stakeholders including CBH Group, Brookfield Rail, local governments and concerned members of the community and are continuing to work on a solution that ensures a safe and efficient grain freight network."

Sources: ABC news and interviews.

Lindsay McNeill

ABOVE: Recent work on the upgrade of a level crossing on a Tier 1 railway line near York.