Fractures emerged in the State Government yesterday after Nationals leader Brendon Grylls signalled opposition to Transport Minister Troy Buswell's decision not to keep 700km of Wheatbelt rail lines open.
Amid a backlash from his electorate and claims by disaffected Nationals MLC Max Trenorden that the party was "thumbing its nose" at its core constituency, Mr Grylls said he would write to Mr Buswell about the "difference in position". The lines, most of which stretch from Merredin, east of Perth, south to Narrogin, are slated to close from October after Mr Buswell rejected a parliamentary committee's recommendations to keep them open until the end of 2014 for an economic review.
Mr Buswell said the lines were becoming sub-standard, rail operator Brookfield Rail had reservations about their safety and grain handler CBH had failed to prove a business case to keep them open.
It is understood the response did not go to Cabinet.
Mr Grylls said about $7 million to $8 million would keep the lines open for another two years, which would also give CBH time to prove its case.
He said in a letter to be sent to Mr Buswell he would ask for a release of $5 million from a transitional fund and suggested CBH contribute the remaining amount.
"But if I'm going to argue for $100 million of taxpayers' money to be spent on the rail network I want to be convinced that CBH is going to use it," he said.
Mr Trenorden, who quit the Nationals after failing to get pre- selected for next year's State election, told ABC radio the issue would hurt the party at the polls as the Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance also warned it would campaign on the matter.
Mr Grylls admitted his response had been formed by concerns raised at the party's weekend State conference, but rejected suggestions it was a knee-jerk reaction.
Shadow transport minister Ken Travers said closing the lines would add up to 70,000 truck movements annually to the State's roads.
He said the upgrade could be funded with Royalties for Regions money, but Mr Grylls said it was a "consolidated revenue ask".Mr Buswell would not comment on Mr Grylls' request but reiterated he did not support a further economic review. CBH said it remained committed to using grain on rail "where it is the most economical pathway to port".
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