Arc Infrastructure committed to WA SuperNet

Arc Infrastructure have this week reaffirmed their commitment to the WA SuperNet project, a planned enterprise-grade, affordable broadband service along 4000km of WA’s grain railway line.

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the freight rail network on behalf of the state government, are on the WA SuperNet steering committee alongside CBH group, with whom their three years long arbitration was settled this week.

“Arc Infrastructure thank CBH for their support toward the (SuperNet) project to date,” Arc Infrastructure executive director Murray Cook said in a press release earlier this week.

“We will continue to work with WA Supernet, Innovation Central Midlands and both State and Federal Governments on this exciting project.”

The project is slated for completion within three years and involves 4000km of optic fibre, buried within the easements of the regional rail network. Forty-metre towers will be constructed at 100 CBH receival bins. Where there is no rail, radio deployment could be used on towers on CBH sites.

“Arc has invested over $500,000 into the project to date and expects to spend a similar amount during this next phase of technical studies over the coming months,” Murray said this week.

Tim Shanahan, who chairs WA SuperNet, in 2018 said that WA SuperNet is likely be structured as a not-for-profit, non-distributing co-operative, enabling the service to be delivered at competitive rates.

He said it was hoped the service could, where possible, dovetail with existing wholesale and retail providers, including the NBN.

Access to competitive, enterprise-grade broadband services continue to be one of the single biggest issues restricting operations in WA’s grain-growing businesses.

According to a 2016 KPMG report, Infrastructure for Smart Farming, high-speed digital connectivity will deliver a $1.2 billion return to the WA industry by helping agribusinesses to be globally competitive.

Grain growers win access to grain freight rail network

A dispute over access to Western Australia’s Grain Freight Rail Network has ended, but grain trucks will still be used while the freight line remains closed.

Arc Infrastructure, which manages the freight rail network on behalf of the state government, and grain handling co-operative CBH Group have been in arbitration since since 2016 after failing to agree over the cost of access to the state’s grain rail network.

The outcome, CBH Group announced on November 1, provides CBH and grain growers access to the rail network at least until the end of 2026.

“The arbitrated outcome has resulted in our growers being in a better position than if we hadn’t sought access under the Code, resulting in a sustainable, long-term access agreement with minimum performance standards for the grain rail freight network,” said CBH Chairman Wally Newman.

“Our objective had always been to achieve a fair price for the level of performance provided so that WA grain growers can remain internationally competitive.

CBH claimed Arc had demanded “unreasonable” price rises, while the Canadian-owned rail operator said the costs of maintaining and upgrading ageing lines were significant and needed to be passed on.

Due to the deterioration of the Tier 3 lines, however, said Newman, they would not be re-opened as part of the arbitrated outcome. The Tier 3 network was closed by the state government in 2014 due to concerns over its viability and maintenance costs.

“Unfortunately, after years under ‘care and maintenance’ the capital costs associated with re-opening Tier 3 lines, as part of the arbitrated outcome, were substantial and the investment required was simply uneconomical for CBH to accept on behalf of growers as it would have required freight rates to increase significantly,” said Newman.

“While the costs are confidential, due to arbitration obligations, accepting these costs would have significantly impacted the international competitiveness of growers and the entire Western Australian grain industry as a whole.”

“In order to avoid a repeat of our experience, CBH will continue to engage in the State Government’s review of the Railways Access Code and push for substantial and immediate changes, with the objective of gaining reasonable access prices, greater transparency and more appropriate timelines for decisions,” said CBH Chief Executive Officer Jimmy Wilson.

“CBH will also continue to drive for fundamental changes to the Western Australian transport landscape in an effort to maximise tonnes we move on rail and to ensure we have the least cost pathway to export markets, keeping our growers internationally competitive and in support of our regional communities.”