Wheatbelt rail battle heats up

15/06/2009 - 15:37

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Local government councils in the Wheatbelt may stop issuing permits for operators of larger grain trucks as the deadline for the state government to commit an initial $45 million to upgrade rail lines for grain transport passes.

Wheatbelt rail battle heats up

Local government councils in the Wheatbelt may stop issuing permits for operators of larger grain trucks as the deadline for the state government to commit an initial $45 million to upgrade rail lines for grain transport passes.

Privately owned rail operator WestNet Rail had given the state government until today to commit to $45 million to upgrade works or face the suspension of operations on four rail lines in the region.


WestNet Rail wanted to use the government funds to re-sleeper the Northam to Albany line.

Transport Minister Simon O'Brien today said the government will continue to work with WestNet Rail, but will not hand over money without following procedure.

Earlier this month, the government gave the recently established Freight and Logistics Council the task of reviewing the state's grain transportation system.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, WestNet Rail said it is considering the government's response and added that train operations on four lines will be suspended from tomorrow, pending further talks with the government.

The lines to be closed are: Trayning to Merredin, York to Quairading, Katanning to Nyabing and Tambellup to Gnowangerup.

If the rail lines are closed, it is likely that farmers will increasingly use trucks to carry their harvest to port.

This move is opposed by the WA Local Government Association, which is worried about the impact on roads and local communities.

WALGA president Bill Mitchell said today councils would respond by refusing to issue permits for large trucks, which would be done on a case by case basis.

"We're giving a clear signal, if rail is not the preferred option and road is then we need funding for the road," Councillor Bill Mitchell told WA Business News.

"If there's no funding forthcoming then we need to limit the tonnages that go on those roads to make sure that the roads are still there in the future."

In contrast, the Pastoralists and Graziers' Association wants farmers to have the freedom to use trucks.

The PGA said today that federal transport Minister Anthony Albanese must resolve WA's narrow gauge rail debate by releasing his department's recent inquiry into the matter.

"We do not accept former WA Minister Alannah MacTiernan's claims that the Commonwealth Government was 'good' for $135 million to prop up our obsolete narrow gauge rail system," PGA spokesman Sheldon Mumby said today.

"The Commonwealth funding was provisional on the results of the WA Grain Freight Review which was completed at the end of April."

"In fact we understand Federal Labor rejected funding for the project because it identified the GIG report, which was started by Ms MacTiernan, as merely serving an extremely limited vested interest.

"Only three parties supported taxpayer funding for the narrow gauge system, and they were the parties with most to gain. Grain growers and other sections of the industry who were deliberately excluded would have been the losers."

Mr Mumby said the previous Government had badly mismanaged the issue and had cost the state millions of dollars in new standard gauge rail funding.

"The previous government spent over six years on the GIG report, and refused to come up with the funding."

"Ms MacTiernan missed her opportunity to benefit WA's $4.5 billion grain industry and should keep out of future debate on this subject."

"What we now need is for Mr. Albanese to release the WA Grain Freight Review report so industry can have a basis for coming up with a long term strategy for regional infrastructure in Western Australia."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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