WA to progress business cases for reopening three Tier 3 grain lines

The Western Australian government has committed to developing three business cases for the reopening of three Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The three lines to be looked at for reopening at, Quairading to York, Kulin via Yilliminning to Narrogin, and Kondining via Narembeen to West Merredin.

The combined cost of upgrading the three lines to narrow gauge standard is $486 million. As part of the investigation the WA government will consider upgrading the Kondinin to West Merredin line to standard gauge at an extra cost of $27.41m.

The three lines were chosen based on an engineering assessment released on September 24 which estimated the cost of reopening Tier 3 lines throughout the wheatbelt.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report found that certain lines could be reopened.

“While the engineering report confirms restoring the entire network would involve significant costs, there are arguably specific lines where the cost of investment could be offset by ongoing commercial and community benefits such as reduced truck volumes on local roads and cost savings to farmers.”

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the WA freight rail network, said it would support the government and grain growers cooperate CBH Group in the submission of business cases to Infrastructure Australia.

“Arc acknowledges that the government has identified an opportunity for the development of business cases to be submitted to Infrastructure Australia, for rail freight investment proposals on the Tier 1, 2 and 3 rail networks. Arc will support government and CBH in this process,” said an Arc Infrastructure spokesperson.

CBH Group, which represents grain growers throughout the state, said it would also support the efforts to make grain transport economically viable.

“We will work with the state government to progress those business cases, including providing information on any impacts of re-instating those lines on the grain supply chain or grower freight rates,” said a CBH Group spokesperson.

“CBH supports grain transport by rail where it is economically viable and the least cost pathway to port.”

The government announcement was also welcomed by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), with WA secretary Craig McKinley calling on the federal government to support the reopening of these lines.

“The Western Australian government is supportive of the need to rebuild key sections of track, and the commitment to undertaking business cases is very heartening,” he said.

“We hope that the business case stage can be completed quickly, so we can move on to securing funding and getting construction underway.

“The reconstruction of Tier 3 lines is exactly the sort of project that the Australian government should be investing in.”

Saffioti said the business cases will be developed in consultation with CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure before being submitted to Infrastructure Australia for potential federal funding.

“Significant funding contributions from the federal government – as per other major regional infrastructure projects – would be required for any potential Tier 3 restoration work in the future.”

The Tier 3 grain lines were closed by Arc Infrastructure in 2014, then known as Brookfield Rail. The Tier 3 lines were seen at the time as not commercially viable. With the resultant shift of grain volumes to road, road maintenance costs have increased, and safety concerns have been raised by the local community. These factors led to the WA government investigating the viability of reopening the lines earlier in 2020.

Regional freight strategy identifies upgrades to WA network

The Western Australia state government has released a targeted program of regional freight rail upgrades to get more agricultural freight onto rail.

Rail improvements are suggested in each of the regions studied in the Revitalising Agricultural Regional Freight Strategy (RARF) report, released on Monday, June 29.

These upgrades include rail lines from Perth to Geraldton, Mullewa to Perenjori, Albany to Hyden/Newdegate, and Esperance to Salmon Gums, in addition to rail improvements throughout the Wheatbelt region.

The RARF strategy also recommends a review of the interface agreements for disused Tier 3 rail corridors and the inclusion of rail lines into the National Land Transport Network.

With the strategy now published, the state government will now prepare a submission to Infrastructure Australia for investment in regional freight networks. WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that the report will guide investment and that work is already underway.

“The RARF Strategy is a blueprint for strategic investment for agricultural infrastructure in our WA regions, underpinning the agricultural sector in our State.

“Work has already started with industry on progressing project packages, with the State Government working with CBH and Arc Infrastructure to progress business cases for Tier 1 and Tier 2 railway packages identified as a priority in this strategy.”

Arc Infrastructure general manager commercial & development, Nathan Speed, said that Arc would work with CBH and the state government to upgrade lines it manages.

“Arc Infrastructure congratulates the Government for the release of the State’s agricultural freight strategy,” he said.

“We look forward to working with Government on these and other projects from RARF that will support the ongoing international competitiveness of WA grain growers, and deliver long-term benefits to the economy and state.”

The report notes that where private or leased infrastructure is concerned, as in the case of WA’s freight rail lines which are leased to Arc Infrastructure, the private sector is expected to lead the development of business cases.

As well as upgrades to track infrastructure, the report highlights the need for intermodal terminals around the network, including on the Avon (Northam) rail corridor, between Perth and Geraldton, Brookton and Northam, and Albany and Hyden/Newdegate.

Based on feedback received on the draft strategy, a more targeted list of projects were included in the final RARF strategy.

Earlier in June, the WA government confirmed it was undertaking an assessment of the cost of reopening the disused Tier 3 grain lines.

“We recognise there is a lot of sentiment around the Tier 3 lines and have commissioned an engineering assessment to advise on the cost and time required for potential rehabilitation,” said Saffioti.

Coinciding with the release of the RARF strategy is the release of the South West Supply Chain Strategy for public comment.

“The draft South West Supply Chain Strategy identifies and prioritises future road, rail, air and port infrastructure requirements in the South-West region and establishes a framework and direction for future freight transport related investment in the region for the next 10-15 years,” said Saffioti.

The report identifies a need for investment in the region’s rail network as strategic locations are approaching operational capacity. In addition, the reconfiguration of rail access to Bunbury Port will allow for the rail infrastructure to meet the needs of bulk exporters. Another area the report identifies as needing investment is the establishment of container rail services between Bunbury and Perth for broader export and domestic market.

To address these challenges, the report cites the need for line duplication, new passing loops, and rail sidings. The report also explores the possibility of a intermodal freight terminal at the Waterloo Industrial Precinct.

Speed said that Arc is working towards getting lithium ore onto rail.

“We continue to collaborate with Talison Lithium and government on the development of the business case for the rail based supply chain from the Greenbushes mine, as outlined in the South West Supply Chain Strategy. We hope to commence detailed project feasibility in late 2020.”

Tier 3 grain lines assessment to evaluate cost, time to re-open

The Western Australian government has committed to an engineering assessment of unused Tier 3 grain lines in the state.

The assessment will determine the cost and time of bringing the mothballed freight lines back up to scratch.

The lines, which stretch over 500km, are managed by rail network operator Arc Infrastructure but were put into care and maintenance by the WA government in 2014. An Arc Infrastructure spokesperson said that it would facilitate the assessment.

“Arc Infrastructure understands the Public Transport Authority (PTA) has engaged a third party to conduct an engineering assessment on the Tier 3 lines. Arc is facilitating the assessment as required, by providing access to the network and some baseline data, however it is being completed independent to Arc.”

Grain handler CBH Group, whose grain freight trains, operated by Watco, take its grain to port, has also supported getting grain onto rail.

“CBH’s long-standing policy is that it supports grain on rail where it is economically viable to do so,” said CBH Group chief operations officer Ben Macnamara.

In 2014, the ABC estimated that it would cost $120 million to return the lines to operating conditions.

Following the closure, CBH Group and Arc Infrastructure entered into an arbitration process over access to the rail network. That process was completed in 2019, and the final agreement decided not to reopen the Tier 3 lines due to the deterioration in quality.

The WA government is close to completion of the Revitalising Agricultural Regional Freight Strategy (RARF) and is currently considering submissions. The draft strategy recommended improving the rail network in all regions, however noted that the re-opening of the Tier 3 lines is not part of the strategy.

The Arc Infrastructure spokesperson said that it was working with CBH on initiatives proposed in the RARF.

“We will continue to support the planning and design on any of the high priority RARF initiatives that will increase volume of grain being moved on rail for the benefit of WA growers.”

CBH’s Macnamara also looked forward to improving the rail network.

“The grain rail freight network is a significant part of the WA grain industry supply chain and CBH has welcomed the State Government’s development of the Revitalising Agricultural Region Freight Strategy,” he said.

“We look forward to continuing working with the government and industry on this important initiative.”