28/05/2009 - 00:00

Major players differ over freight

28/05/2009 - 00:00


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While there’s agreement on the need for action, those involved in grain transportation are divided on how to proceed.

Major players differ over freight

GRAIN handler CBH Group chief executive Andy Crane and new Pastoralists and Graziers Association western graingrowers chairman Rick Wilson are at odds over how best to tackle the deteriorating grain rail freight network.

Mr Crane told a WA Business News boardroom forum this month that one of the biggest issues facing its business, and the industry, was infrastructure.

He believes that grain should be transported by rail to avoid putting more trucks on the roads.

"For us, the major issue is the rail system in this state is collapsing; it's not doing the job it was designed 100 years ago to do," Mr Crane said.

"It's a major area of market failure. We need government to nudge the finances, or the decision making, so the grain volume stays on rail and isn't put on trucks to get to port.

"People in the city don't see the three million tonnes of grain we load through Kwinana every year because it comes on rail, but it's not going to stay that way because the investment's not there."

CBH, WestNet Rail and Australian Railroad Group are behind a $400 million plan to upgrade the grain freight rail network, with funding to be shared equally between state and federal government and industry.

Of the total investment, $200 million would be spent on laying new sleepers on rail lines, $50 million on feeder roads and $150 million on rapid rail loading cells at CBH facilities.

"Now's the time for government to be doing that, to be investing; we're offering matched funding from industry," Mr Crane said.

"We've been called to invest in future opportunities to be ready to come out of this recession, and the government should do the same thing for infrastructure."

But Mr Wilson believes the proposal is a band-aid solution, and called for the development of a comprehensive and well-resourced strategic plan for the grain infrastructure upgrades.

"The PGA is calling for the state government to institute a study into the optimum grain logistics network," Mr Wilson SAID.

"We're opposed to the current campaign of CBH and Westnet Rail to put their grain on rail, which is basically a $400 million band-aid measure. There needs to be a longer-term strategic plan to upgrade the key parts of the network to standard gauge."

Mr Wilson said WA's regional communities were missing out on vital funds for rail and road infrastructure because of a proposal to restore outmoded narrow gauge rail systems.

The two groups also differ on their stance of road versus rail for transporting grain.

The CBH-WestNet-ARG alliance has embarked on a campaign highlighting the problems that would be created if millions of tonnes of grain are forced off rail and onto roads.

The PGA, meanwhile, has rejected claims it supported the 'Grain on Rail' campaign, and is calling for a major rethink of WA's grain freight problems.

"We believe there are far better solutions to the grain freight problem, services like new standard gauge links that will enable train turnarounds of 20 hours or less between regional storages and ports such as Narrogin and Albany, with upgraded road services feeding into them," Mr Wilson said in a statement.

"The provision of better roads with more passing lanes to service these new lines would not only vastly improve efficiency, but also public road safety and offer major benefits for non-grain freight and traffic."



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