Labor has thrown a wildcard into the race for the seat of Central Wheatbelt while attempting to shore up its vote in Perth's eastern suburbs by pledging $30 million to keep the contentious Tier 3 grain freight rail lines open.
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan claimed the money, which Labor intends to find from the Royalties for Regions account, would make the lines viable for the next three years and keep trucks off major roads.
Labor is confident the money will allow a commercial agreement to be reached by grain handler CBH, which owns the rolling stock, its logistics contractor Watco and Brookfield Rail, which has a long-term lease on the lines.
But WAFarmers, which supports the retention of the rail lines, and Transport Minister Troy Buswell, who has refused to guarantee their future beyond October 31, said the pledge would not be enough.
Mr McGowan said the closure of the Tier 3 lines would force 60,000 trucks on to WA roads. "There is significant community concern about the impact of closing the Tier 3 lines on Wheatbelt communities," he said. "The Wheatbelt already has the highest road death toll in WA, with 740 killed or seriously injured between 2001 and 2010."
WAFarmers president Dale Park welcomed the announcement, describing it as "the best offer on the table at present", but said the lines would need $100 million to bring them up to standard.
"WA Labor have committed to the future of Tier 3 and keeping grain on rail, thus seeing the benefits in rail not only for farmers but for motorists," Mr Park said.
WA's narrow gauge rail network contains about 700km of Tier 3 lines but they carry only about 12 per cent of the State's grain. The issue is crucial in the race for Central Wheatbelt, which will pit Nationals candidate Mia Davies against Liberal Stephen Strange.
The Nationals' position is to keep Tier 3 open during an independent review of its viability. Mr Strange said he would argue strongly for Mr Buswell to retain them.Mr Buswell said Labor's announcement did not guarantee Tier 3's future but simply pushed back a commercial decision between Brookfield and CBH.