Last night’s forum on tier 3 rail closures was a success by any measure. It was initiated by Lynn MacLaren MLC and chaired by Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams. Also in attendance were state politicians Ken Travers and Roger Cook, Rockingham Mayor Barry Sammels and Councillors from both Kwinana and Rockingham. Attendees not only included residents from the metropolitan area but also farmers from the wheat-belt, who gave firsthand accounts of how the rail infrastructure is being dismantled and the effect of that on their business and sustainability. WA is unique in that over 90% of our crop is exported, earning valuable export dollars and helping to feed the world. This industry needs good infrastructure back up to continue to be viable and sustainable.
Keynote speaker was Jane Fuchsbichler from the Wheat-belt rail retention alliance (WRRA). She made the very compelling case that without key rail infrastructure to transport crops to Kwinana for shipment the roads would be awash with road-trains trying to perform the task, a task the roads are simply not up to. Two road-trains passing are wider than the bitumen resulting in trucks having to run onto the hard shoulder causing severe erosion of the interface between bitumen and dirt, she showed a picture of a 1.25 litre soft drink bottle lost in the rut. As trucks attempt to return to the bitumen their trailers swerve wildly as they come up this step presenting a risk to themselves through potential rollover and of course other road users. Jane showed a graphic bar chart showing road trauma deaths in the wheat-belt per 1,000 population exceeds those anywhere else in Australia. The cost of repairing or replacing these roads is in the billions of dollars, more by orders of magnitudes that the cost of turning around the neglect of the rail infrastructure. Farmer cooperative CBH has invested millions in new rail rolling-stock and understandably feel betrayed by the transport ministers’ decision to abandon the rail option.
George Crisp from Doctors for the Environment spoke on the community health issues related to the use of trucks for freight transportation. While very graphic road trauma is a key consideration, this is only the tip of the iceberg, for every person killed or injured by a traffic accident 100 more will be killed or injured by air pollution, of real concern is small particulate pollution of less than 10 micron, which diesel engines are very good at emitting. These particles are small enough to bypass the body’s natural defence systems and that is why they are of such concern to doctors. They are also the hidden enemy statistically because they are not given as cause of death, illnesses which they trigger or exacerbate are, these are illnesses such as lung disorders, strokes and heart failure, the biggest killers in our society. Not only does transporting freight by rail reduce diesel consumption by in the order of 1 in 400 these pollutants are not being emitted in the high streets of our towns and cities.
Barry Truman introduced Road2Rail action group and explained the common themes between the fight to get containers from Fremantle Ports onto rail with the fight to retain rail infrastructure in our wheat-belt. He focused on the sheer lack of common sense in the direction the state government is taking in these issues and need for good infrastructure planning to serve our community into the future.
I covered the resolution brought to Fremantle Council by Cr Sam Wainwright in September last year giving Council support for WRRA and urged the Mayors of Kwinana and Rockingham to do likewise.
Lynn concluded the presentations with a comprehensive PowerPoint looking at the strategic issues of transport infrastructure. She outlined the single bottom line of the advantages of rail as well as the triple-bottom-line, something that constantly seems to get lost in political debate in this state. Lynn spoke of the need to make decisions in the knowledge we have of peak oil. Oil we save by using rail to transport grain is oil the farmers can use in their farm equipment. Lynn showed slides and funding graphs of rail infrastructure being installed across the globe and questioned why WA seems to be going in the opposite direction in decommissioning rail infrastructure.
During question time Kwinana CEO, Neil Hartley showed concern at the impact such a significant increase in truck movements would have for the Town and their infrastructure and was trying to get some definitive figures to base the town response to this situation. Well, replacing one train would require 50 double B trucks. A 30,000 tonne grain vessel would require 1,000 truck movements to fill it. While the grain terminal in Kwinana has always being serviced by rail CBH have felt the need, despite being committed to rail, to recently install 3 truck unloading facilities, a first for them.
I’m sure all those who attended now have a better understanding of the challenges that face the wheat-belt and metropolitan council regarding transport issues. It was good to see farmers, left-wing politicians, councils and the rural and metro community coming together and agreeing on this issue.
Pictures by Jane Fuchsbichler