NAREMBEEN grower and chair of the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance, Bill Cowan said Transport Minister Troy Buswell’s position that a set amount of money had been allocated to the task of renewing Wheatbelt rail lines and that would be it, has been exposed after a radio interview the Minister conducted last week.
Despite Mr Buswell’s position, Mr Cowan said he was still positive about the outlook for Tier 3 lines in the Wheatbelt area.
The Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance was scheduled to meet with representatives from CBH and Watco including Watco executive vice president Ed McKechnie.
The meeting was to take place in Bruce Rock last weekend.
“They’ve written to us and they want to hear our views,” Mr Cowan said.
“They want consultation and forthright discussion to take place between us and I see that as a very proactive and encouraging step.
“It will be nice to get some idea about their view on the situation and where the Tier 3 lines might be a possibility.”
Mr Cowan said the Alliance wanted to meet the industry representatives on Wheatbelt soil where they could actually look at a Tier 3 line.
“It’s going to be interesting because if they really do feel that Tier 3 lines are worth putting money into, I actually now have a feeling that private industry might put the money into it,” he said.
“I’m more confident now that we will save the Tier 3 lines, however, it is a worry that both Troy Buswell and Brendon Grylls are saying that there’s nothing they can do to save them.”
Mr Cowan was awaiting response from Mr Buswell in relation to the closure of Tier 3 rail lines throughout the Wheatbelt and said that Mr Gryll’s contribution to the debate had also come as no surprise.
From the Alliance’s point of view, potential funding from Royalties for Regions would be the “ultimate outcome” according to Mr Cowan, however, he said Mr Grylls made his point of view clear when he was also recently interviewed on radio.
“Brendon Grylls said even if money was put into the Tier 3 lines farmers wouldn’t use them anyway because the freight charges were higher,” Mr Cowan said.
“Nearly 94 per cent of grain in WA was freighted by train anyway.
“Funding from Royalties for Regions for the cause would be the ultimate outcome because we’d see the money already allocated spent on roads, which is inadequate anyway, as well as the Royalty for Regions funding.
“If Royalties for Regions went in, it would be a significant help.”
Although, members from the Alliance had said, CBH had been “tight-lipped” about its intentions they were enthusiastic about meeting with CBH and Watco in Bruce Rock.
“No one from CBH has said anything but I think it was their strategy all along,” Mr Cowan said.
He also said CBH representatives had made their interest in the rail infrastructure publicly known for some time.
“CBH has suggested the State Government give the rail lines back so that it could run them,” he said.
“It is like WAFarmers member Kevin Jones said, if they do that, WestNet will surely get them somewhere else and make them pay somewhere further along the line.
“I may be pre-empting something CBH has in the pipeline but it is what it is.”
Mr Buswell said the Government, through its review of the way WA freights its grain, had invested $350m into the upgrade of road and rail networks in the Wheatbelt so wheat could be transported as efficiently and as safely as possible to WA’s ports.
He said part of that process meant that three under-utilised lines in the Wheatbelt would be put on a care and maintenance basis.
“That was a long process, supported by industry and supported by farmers,” he said.
“That process has now concluded and we are now focused on implementing the upgrades funded by that $350m.”
Mr Buswell said the process of review had been going on since 2004 and nothing had happened.
“It’s time now for action,” he said.
“Clearly there are some people who feel dissatisfied with the outcome.
“They have been making outrageous claims in terms of the impact of the Government decision on the freight of grain by road.”
He said if their argument was taken to its logical conclusion, they would have “a rail receival point at the end of every farmgate.”
“And that clearly isn’t going to happen,” he said.
“We all know every farmer in WA takes their grain by road to a grain receival point.
“What we’re saying is that there are some rail networks which are no longer viable or economic and those farmers will have the option to take their grain a little further to grain receival points.”
Mr Buswell said that had “aggrieved” some people and that change could rarely exist without “some agitation.”
“But my message to those groups is that we are not going to begin another review,” he said.
“We are going to spend this $350m of State and Federal money to fix up roads and rail.
“So we are making sure we invest in roads to provide a safe environment, acknowledging that the rail networks have served agricultural communities for a long time and that there have to be some changes at some point.”
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