A disagreement is brewing over how and where to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to make agricultural transport in Western Australia safer and more efficient.
- $ 200 million is allocated for road, rail and port projects as part of the first step of WA’s agricultural supply chain improvement strategy
- WA Department of Transportation to seek community input on where to invest the money
- Community and union groups hope to invest in the third tier
Regional community groups want the majority of a federal and state transportation fund to be spent on rebuilding remote rail lines to reduce the amount of grain carried on public roads.
The WA Department of Transportation has yet to decide how to spend the roughly $ 200 million of federal and state funds allocated to the first stage of WA’s Agricultural Supply Chain Improvements (ASCI).
The ASCI program aims to make the transport of goods in agricultural regions of WA more productive, efficient and safe.
There is no shortage of potential road, rail and port projects to spend money on.
The state’s main grain manager, Co-operative Bulk Handling (CBH), has been working with the state to identify and prioritize more than 130 transport projects for several years.
With the state’s grain yield increasing over time, Acting General Manager Ben Macnamara said the cooperative was focused on getting the WA region’s grain to the port as quickly as possible.
“Right now we can get around 1.6 million tonnes per month. If we look to 2030, we are aiming for 2.2 million tonnes per month in the first half of the year,” Macnamara said.
Community support to rebuild level three
Western Australia’s regional rail network is used to transport bulk goods, including grains and minerals.
The routes are classified into three levels according to volumes and traffic conditions.
In 2000, the network was leased to a private company for 49 years.
ARC Infrastructure (formerly Brookfield Rail) currently owns the lease.
In 2014, the company shut down Level Three rail lines that were primarily used to transport grain from some of the state’s most remote CBH storage facilities.
Since that time, regional communities, including the Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance, have called for the lines to be rebuilt due to the increasing number of trucks on public roads.
Community lobbying efforts were rewarded last year when the state government released an independent technical assessment of the estimated cost of restoring each section of the wheat belt’s level three rail network, creating a glimmer of hope that money could be spent on lines in the future.
Wheatbelt Rail Retention Alliance coordinator Jane Fuchsbichler was cautiously optimistic that the third tier would see investment.
“We have backed down with our infrastructure in the wheatbelt as the eastern states receive $ 14.7 billion for domestic rail, and we know there is a lot of rail infrastructure in the metro area. So I think it’s fair and reasonable for the wheat belt to get a small share, ”she said.
Streetcar and Bus Union WA branch secretary of state Craig McKinley believed $ 160 million in federal funds was specifically for level three.
“There are level three planes, which will never be returned to service. We understand that. But there are some that should definitely be in service, mainly in the central wheat belt,” McKinley said.
He was concerned that CBH might want to spend funds on what he described as routine maintenance which he said should be ARC’s responsibility.
“Having been involved in the rail industry for over 30 years, I can tell you now that these one-off improvements will not bring an extra teaspoon of grain to the port,” McKinley said.
“Because so much has to be perfectly right for these upgrades to make a difference, the only way to get more grain to the port is to cover geography, you have to build the rail lines in the bush.” , he said.
However, CBH acting chief executive Ben Macnamara said the cooperative had identified priorities by evaluating all possible upgrade projects, including level three, using the same criteria.
“We also take these other aspects into consideration critically around the social aspects, because we also focus on road safety,” he said.
“We also have a lot of staff and employees driving in opposite directions to some of these big trucks, so we are keenly aware of the socio-economic impacts.”
Transport Minister Rita Safiotti said the first projects to be completed will be four new sidings in Cranbrook, Broomhill, Brookton and Moore, but where and how to spend the rest of the money remains to be decided.
“We are looking at geographic areas where you could, for example, invest in roads, railways and ports,” Ms. Safiotti said.
“So he’s trying to get a combination of expenses to try to improve efficiency and reduce the cost of freight transportation.”
Regional forums will be held in Geraldton, Wagin, Merredin, Dalwallinu, Northam, Albany and Esperance. Details are available here.