There is no let up in expressions of concern about the condition of  roads and road safety in areas of the wheatbelt affected by closure of Tier 3 rail lines.

There is still no word on the CBH request that the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) join its negotiations with Brookfield Rail concerning a commercial arrangement to replace the rail access agreement which expires in June. In October last year CBH said a lack of progress in discussions concerning access to the rail network had led to its approach to the ERA.

Observers are concerned at the lack of transparency in the lease agreement between Brookfield and the state government which gives the company monopolistic  control of the state grain rail network and stops rail users gaining information they need to negotiate commercial access agreements. Furthermore, that Brookfield has been allowed to let some lines deteriorate to an extent that they are no longer fit for service and then refuse access to them.

The closure of the York-Quairading and Trayning-Merredin Tier 3 railway lines by Brookfield  on October 31 and a record harvest have added urgency to calls for the Tier 3 network to remain open. In an interview on ABC radio on January 15, CEO of the Shire of York, Ray Hooper, said grain trucks travelling through York during harvest had damaged local roads and that the worst period for road damage was yet to come.

"In October last year, two Tier 3 rail lines in the Wheatbelt were closed, meaning grain that may have been transported on rail now has to be trucked and the trucks have to travel through York to Perth or to unload at the York grain terminal. "The rail closure has seen truck numbers travelling through York rise by 10 to 15 per cent," he said

"The period from April to June, where grain is trucked from outlying wheatbelt bins to port for shipping, will cause more damage to roads. "This cartage period creates a bigger problem because it is surge carting. "If they have a 40,000 or 50,000-tonne order to load a boat, CBH gets what it can by rail but have to top it up by road," Mr Hooper said.

"It's bumper to bumper road trains in a very short period to get it out. "This is a problem in York where we have the intersection of four roads coming in from the wheatbelt. "The shire works crew had to do emergency road repairs during harvest to fix the road to York CBH which had rutting more than 150 millimetres deep," he said.

In a letter on January 17 to a Quairading resident,  the acting premier, Dr Kim Hames, said the government had made a significant investment in viable rail lines and roads in the Tier 3 area and recognises that both rail and road networks are critical for transporting WA grain to port. The choice of road or rail is a private, commercial decision. "The state rail network has been leased to Brookfield Rail on a long-term basis and future operation of the rail network is dependent on commercial arrangements between Brookfield and its customers," Mr Hames said.

Lindsay McNeill

ABOVE: Roads in and around York are being rutted by an increase in heavy grain trucks.