CBH general manager operations David Capper said last week that it seemed “unlikely” that agreement could be reached given differences in pricing expectations, and the co-operative had therefore, commenced the process to seek an access agreement under the Railways Access Code.
Negotiations have so far focused on CBH achieving satisfactory access to train pathways, ensuring that general performance standards of the tracks are maintained and access fees charged by Brookfield are reasonable in order for WA’s grain supply chain to remain competitive.
“We cannot justify entering into an agreement on behalf of the growers of WA that essentially costs more, and significantly more, for access to fewer tracks with diminishing performance,” Capper said.
Bill Cowan, chair of WA’s Wheatbelt Railway Retention Alliance (WRAA), believes that much of the problem can be attributed back to the state government and its agreement with Brookfield.
“CBH don’t believe they are getting a fair deal for themselves or the state’s grain growers. Bringing in the ERA signals that there is a strong case against the unfairness in the government’s monopolistic agreement with Brookfield,” Cowan told Rail Express.
“CBH maintains that Brookfield’s access fees are now over 50% of the total freight bill for farmers carting their grain to port.
“CBH would be hoping for the ERA’s ruling to come down in their favour on the basis of charges being too high for a company with a monopoly on the rail.”
However, Cowan said this may be hard for CBH to do as the charges are currently within the guidelines set out in Brookfield’s charter.
“The WA Government in their haste to negotiate with Brookfield have allowed them to charge too much for track access without having to properly maintain the lines.”
Cowan cites further speed restrictions being placed on the lines in the last 12 months as evidence that backs up CBH’s claims that Brookfield’s maintenance standards have continued to fall.
“These have fallen from 50 km/h empty and 40 km/h loaded to 30 km/h noth ways,” he said.
“Even at these speeds there has been a recent derailment on Quairading-York line,” he added.
Capper said that CHB is seeking a fair price for fair performance.
“WA growers need to be competitive with other countries where supply chain costs are significantly lower than ours. Even domestically, our current cost for track access is higher than any other state in Australia. We are becoming less competitive every year,” Capper said.
“Growers deserve to have a network they can rely on to carry their produce to market for many years to come.”
Brookfield told Rail Express that it looks forward to working with CBH and the ERA to resolve the dispute.
Brookfield did not provide comment on CBH’s claims that WA farmers are not being given a fair deal.