An enquiry into access to and maintenance of the narrow gauge rail network may hold the key to the future of the Tier 3 lines in the Central Wheatbelt.

The enquiry by Economics and Industry Standing Committee is looking into the management and regulation of Tier 1, 2 and 3 lines and whether or not current lease arrangements are in the best interests of state development. Last year the York to Quairading and Merredin to Trayning Tier 3 railway lines were closed. Loads on other Tier 2 and Tier 3 lines have been restricted due to their dilapidated state.

The committee is examining the 50-year lease arrangement between the State Government and rail line operators, Brookfield Rail and was in Bruce Rock on May 27 for public hearings.

Speaking on ABC Radio, committee chairman, Ian Blayney, said, "It's an issue that's important to a lot of people in the Wheatbelt, so this is an opportunity for them to come and see a parliamentary committee taking evidence. "Next day we'll be looking at railway lines in the area as well as talking to CBH and looking at one of their installations," he said

While in Bruce Rock, the enquiry spoke with stakeholders including the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance, the Shire of Bruce Rock and farmers. Vice chairman, Bill Cowan, said on the ABC that the WRRA submission focused on the cost of closing Tier 3 lines. "On average, it's about $4.00 a tonne cheaper to transport grain by rail than by road. "A train uses between a fifth and an eighth of the fuel a truck does over the same distance. "Another major concern we raised was road safety," he said.

Alliance co-ordinator, Jane Fuchsbichler, said the WRRA also challenged the flawed figures used as the basis for the SGNC report which recommended closure of Tier 3 lines. "You can't get a correct outcome if incorrect information is used. "You need to acknowledge the real cost of road upgrades and maintenance before rail can be ruled out," she said

There was a reminder of road safety issues earlier in May when a road train carting grain for CBH from Quairading to Cunderdin overturned spilling its load. The rollover happened on a road designated as a preferred route for the transport of grain after the York-Quairading railway line was closed last October. The incident confirmed that roads were not up to the standard needed to handle road trains carting grain. The latest word is that the remaining Tier 3 lines will close on June 30 with about one  million tonnes of export grain at sites along them, still to be transported to port, Mrs Fuchsbichler said.

ABOVE: Supporters of the state's grain rail network are hoping that the closed and locked gates at the bridge across the Avon River on the York-Quairading Tier 3 railway line aren't an omen to its future.