The state government’s failure to make clear its intentions concerning the future of the narrow gauge grain rail network in the central wheatbelt is frustrating those wanting it retained and upgraded.

Co-operative Bulk Handling’s failure to make a decision on its future use of the railways to transport grain from bins in the area is being blamed for the government’s lack of commitment.

People could be excused for wondering what is going on having observed some maintenance being carried out on parts of the rail network in question. Rails on the bridge over the Avon River on the Quairading line have been re-ballasted in the last couple of months. Sleepers are also being re-ballasted on curves in the line further east.

This may only be Westnet Rail administering the last rites to a railway line that it intends to close after the coming harvest. The prospect of more heavy grain trucks on the road between York and Bruce Rock, acknowledged by government authorities as sub standard, alarms those who use it.

Those working for retention of the railways can’t believe the government’s apparent lack of understanding of road use in the area and the inadequacy of funds for road upgrades.  

Above: A loaded grain train heading for York on the York/Quairading line recently.

Right: Re-ballasting of rails on the York/Quairading line about 8 kilometres east of York recently.

Despite a claim in parliament on September 7 by the Minister for Transport, Simon O’Brien MLA, that “the majority of the Tier 3 lines have rarely been used by the grain handler for several years now,” the York/Quairading line has been in regular use over recent months moving about 2,500 tonnes of grain each trip and keeping hundreds of heavy grain trucks off the road.

Mr O’Brien told parliament that there was a substantial amount of work currently being done to identify and prioritise the order in which works would be done to meet the evolving nature of the grain freight task.

While no money was allocated in the state budget for the York/Bruce Rock road, it appears that funds might be diverted from another allocation to carry out some essential work. CEO of the York Shire, Ray Hooper, said money could be redirected from some earmarked for work on the road between Quairading and Cunderdin in the mistaken belief that substantially more grain would be carted north to the standard gauge line.

In what might be an acknowledgment that there is something wrong with the process used to make decisions about the future of the Tier 3 lines in the central wheatbelt, Mr O’Brien has called a meeting of the Strategic Grain Network Review Committee for October 21 to review funding support to keep grain on rail for a further season and estimates of the cost of upgrading roads that will be affected by closure of narrow gauge railway lines.

Lindsay McNeill