A PARLIAMENTARY committee has recommended that Tier 3 rail lines should remain open until the end of 2014 to enable CBH Group to demonstrate its business case for the retention of the lines.
The committee also recommended that, within the same time frame, the WA government should commission the Wheatbelt Development Commission to undertake an economic review of the appropriate grain transport infrastructure for areas serviced by Tier 3 lines.
The recommendations were made in response to a petition tabled in the Legislative Council on March 6 which called on the Legislative Council to investigate the decision-making process for the closure of the Tier 3 lines, with particular consideration to the CBH business case.
Committee chairman Agricultural Region MLC Brian Ellis, who tabled the report in parliament yesterday, said the closure of Tier 3 lines had been an emotive issue since an economic review in 2009 had concluded that they were not commercially viable due to competition from road transport.
“The Barnett government has invested more money into the grain rail network than any other government in the last two decades,” Mr Ellis said, “but as a grain grower I understand the deep feelings this issue has aroused.
“I therefore welcomed the temporary reprieve until 31 October 2012 offered by the Minister for Transport following the recent bumper harvest.
“However, the committee has taken on board new circumstances which we believe are sufficient to encourage the 2009 decision to be revisited.
“These include the appointment of a new rail operator, which CBH Group says has resulted in efficiencies in operation, and new access arrangements with the rail network provider.
“CBH Group believes its new rolling stock comprises lighter wagons which can carry more grain per load and that their new locomotives also produce efficiencies.”
The committee also queried the extent of the impact of increased truck movements on road infrastructure as stated in the 2009 review.
The report noted that, while there is agreement that relevant circumstances have changed, there is disagreement whether this rendered the Tier 3 lines commercially viable.
It also noted that a consideration for the government was money expended to date on road infrastructure upgrades.
Mr Ellis said the committee had concluded that: “While they may seem fine twigs when viewed on the railway map the decision whether or not to proceed with closure of the Tier 3 lines directs significant investment and has ramifications for the development and use of related infrastructure.”
The report notes that some 50 per cent of the state’s grain is produced in the Kwinana Port zone and “determining the appropriate grain transport infrastructure for this region is of considerable importance not only to the nearly 2000 farmers who access Tier 3 lines, the local governments who plan around grain movements and wheatbelt communities generally, but to the wider WA community”.
“The committee considers the current commercial viability of Tier 3 lines needs to be tested prior to any decision whether to proceed with their closure,” Mr Ellis said.
“I have made the Minister for Transport aware of the report and I look forward with interest to his views.”
The minister is required to provide a written response within two months.