Bunbury should brace itself for an influx of trucks carrying grain with freight rail lines in the Wheatbelt set to shutdown at the end of the year.
Transport Minister Troy Buswell last year announced his support of Bunge Agribusiness Australia’s proposal to export wheat through Bunbury Port and it now appears South West roads are poised to pick up the slack of a failing grain rail network.
A recently released WA Auditor General’s report, “Management of the Rail Freight Network Lease”, found that mineral and general freight lines were in better condition now than when the State Government granted a 49-year lease to private operator Brookfield Rail in 2000.
However, Tier 3 lines, used primarily for the transport of grain in the Wheatbelt, have degraded.
The grain lines have needed substantial Government funding to remain in service and two Tier 3 lines have already been placed in care and maintenance, with a further eight likely to be taken out of service by the end of 2013.
The report also states that an advisory committee established in 2009 to review the grain rail network recommended the Government fund road works to allow the grain harvest in Tier 3 districts to be carried by road.
That road funding has not been forthcoming, according to Opposition transport spokesman Ken Travers.
“The Government has failed to fund the maintenance and upgrades to the regional road network needed to make transport of grain by truck viable,” he said.
“They have just spent a lot of money upgrading the Avon to Albany rail line and it doesn’t make any sense for a truck to drive over that line on its way to delivering wheat to Bunbury.”
Collie-Preston MLA Mick Murray highlighted the traffic and safety issues the extra trucks were likely to present.
“We don’t want congestion problems in the Bunbury area like the ones that currently exist up in Fremantle,” Mr Murray said.
“Congestion aside, a mix of trucks and small cars is just dangerous — especially on regional roads like the one connecting Darkan and Collie which is in terrible condition.”
WA National Party president Colin Holt said the closure of Tier 3 lines was not a foregone conclusion.
“The Nationals’ position has always been to move as much grain by rail as possible and we’re currently waiting on an assessment from the CBH Group on the costs involved with keeping Tier 3 grain lines operating.”