02/07/2009 - 00:00

Grain transport outcome on track

02/07/2009 - 00:00

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THE drawn-out debate surrounding Western Australia's ageing grain transport rail network may have finally reached a workable solution.

RESULTS: Rick Wilson is confident the Strategic Grain Network Committee will help find a better future solution to WA’s rail and road transport structure. Photo: Grant Currall

THE drawn-out debate surrounding Western Australia's ageing grain transport rail network may have finally reached a workable solution.

Talks last week between the state government and privately owned rail operator, WestNet Rail, resulted in an agreement guaranteeing the availability of grain rail operations on all lines for the 2009-10 year.

This included the four regional lines that were suspended from service on June 16 following the government's failure to meet WestNet's deadline regarding a $45 million funding request to re-sleeper the Northam to Albany line.

Transport Minister Simon O'Brien said the newly established Strategic Grain Network Committee (SGNC) - a sub-committee of the Freight and Logistics Council that was appointed last month to assess the grain rail issue - will advise on the future of the network and the government's possible investment in it.

Mr O'Brien is confident the SNGC, comprising transport specialist Fred Affleck and various other industry members, will provide credible recommendations before the end of the year.

Industry bodies haven't wasted any time announcing their support for this latest development.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association of Western Australia and the Western Australian Local Government Association both welcomed the news.

PGA Grains chairman Rick Wilson is especially pleased there will be no strategic rail closures.

"The pressing need now is for the federal transport minister to release to the WA committee the federal government's response to the GIG [Grain Infrastructure Group] proposal so that we can identify its attitude to future funding for an integrated transport system in WA," Mr Wilson said.

Earlier this month, WALGA president Bill Mitchell was worried about the impact any possible rail closures may have had on roads and local communities.

This led to a threat by local government councils in the Wheatbelt to stop issuing permits for operators of larger grain trucks.

However, Cr Mitchell said WALGA was now pleased to be part of the SGNC.

"While councils will still need to carefully consider the allocation to large trucks of concessional load permits, the reopening of the four lines is by far the best way of ensuring the longevity of our local roads," he said.

"This is the most sensible outcome to what was heading to become a standoff between industry and state government that could have had dire consequences for growers and local communities."

Meanwhile, grain handler and marketer CBH Group finalised a market-based shipping allocation system last week to help avoid a repeat of the congestion that occurred earlier this year at WA ports.

The revised system will operate with two processes for allocation, based on two distinct shipping periods.

The harvest shipping period and the annual shipping period will cater for grain export times between November 1 and January 15, and between January 15 and October 31 respectively.

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