Transport Minister Dean Nalder has bowed to pressure from farmers and ordered a safety audit of Wheatbelt rail lines that closed at the weekend.

The first cracks in the State Government's hardline stand on the future of the Tier 3 lines came yesterday after WAFarmers president Dale Park led a protest convoy of 12 trucks including road trains from the Wheatbelt into the city.

Hope for shut grain railways

Mr Nalder, who met Mr Park outside State Government headquarters in West Perth, said he had asked the Department of Transport to do a safety audit on the lines "so we can clearly understand the state they are in".

He suggested Brookfield Rail, which has an exclusive 49-year lease of the lines, should consider sub-lease options being put forward by Co-operative Bulk Handling and farm lobby groups.

Premier Colin Barnett promised to keep viable Tier 3 lines open before last year's election but since then the Government had claimed it was a commercial matter for Brookfield and CBH to resolve.

"I have expressed a desire for Brookfield Rail to do a sub-lease if possible," Mr Nalder said yesterday after revealing he had met both companies to discuss the issue.

Brookfield and CBH, which carts grain using locomotives and wagons, are locked in a bitter dispute over rail access fees and operating standards which is before the Economic Regulation Authority.

The ageing Tier 3 lines closed with about 875,000 tonnes of grain from last season's record harvest in receival bins it services. CBH estimates moving it will result in about 30,000 extra truck movements.

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said that the extra truck traffic would put lives at risk on already dangerous Wheatbelt roads.

The protest convoy's first stop was the Brookfield headquarters in Welshpool. Mr Park presented chief executive Paul Larsen with an offer to sub-lease the lines for $1 a year.

Mr Larsen said that Brookfield "would love to keep Tier 3 lines open".

CBH operations manager David Capper welcomed Mr Nalder's comments on Brookfield sub-leasing the lines and backed an independent safety audit.

The West Australian

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