State Government appoints engineering giants to investigate viability of Narrogin-Kulin Tier 3 line... again

Headshot of Cally Dupe
Cally DupeCountryman
A large weed grows out of a Tier 3 line at Kulin.
Camera IconA large weed grows out of a Tier 3 line at Kulin. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

Two of Australia’s biggest engineering firms have descended on the Wheatbelt to determine the cost and viability of opening the shuttered Tier 3 lines from Narrogin to Kulin, despite a similar study three years ago determining it would cost $164.41 million.

Countryman can today reveal Agonis Group and Jacobs Australia have been appointed to conduct a study on the recommissioning of about 120km of two grain freight lines, which closed in 2014.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the study would “provide clarity” on the engineering, economic and network potential of recommissioning sections of the rail lines, which were once used to cart grain for export at either Kwinana or Albany.

“The State Government is committed to supporting rail and road infrastructure that provides significant social, economic and environmental benefits for WA,” she said.

“The Narrogin-Kulin Tier 3 Recommissioning Study will give us the valuable data and insights we need to make informed decisions about investment in the region’s freight network.

“It will give us advice on what it will take to get rail freight services back into this area, which currently lacks access to the efficient WA rail freight network.”

The Narrogin-Kulin and Narrogin-Wickepin lines share the first 20km of track before it splits.

Agonis Group has been appointed to deliver a capital cost estimation of recommissioning the lines, while Jacobs Australia has been appointed to deliver an economic assessment of the project and collate all study components into a final report.

Jacobs Australia plans to consult with key stakeholders, including Co-operative Bulk Handling, local shires, rail and road freight operators, local grain and export commodity producers, and community members.

The study is under way and is expected to take three months.

The study, and any initial capital works, will be funded by a $72 million allocation from the Federal Government, which formed part of the Agricultural Supply Chain Improvement Program’s $200 million package announced last year.

Of that, $160m has been contributed from the Federal Government, and $40m from the State, while CBH Group is in the process of rolling out rail siding upgrade projects after tipping in $200m of its own money.

The $40 million State Government contribution marked its biggest contribution to grain-on-rail since 2011, despite having spent billions on Metronet since the project was launched in 2017.

Ms Saffioti said the State Government wanted to ensure it got the “best return on investment” from the ASCI funding.

“This study will help ensure that our funding decisions are based on thorough consultation with the community and the affected industries,” she said.

WA Agriculture Minister Jackie Jarvis said the study would provide “valuable insights”, both about the recommissioning of the line and the potential benefits to grain growers as well as other export industries.

The announcement comes nearly two years after the release of a separate investigation revealing it would cost $1.09 billion to repair and reopen all of WA’s shuttered Tier 3 lines.

The Labor-commissioned report — also completed by Agonis Group — was the first initial indication of how much it might cost to reopen the 509km of track closed in 2014.

The study revealed it would cost $164.41 million to reopen the Narrogin-Kulin line, which included $34.54m for the Narrogin to Yilliminning section and $129.87m for the Yilliminning to Kulin section.

The new study is expected to delve into much greater detail than the prior, high-level study.

All 500km of the Tier 3 freight routes flowing through the heart of the Wheatbelt were closed by the Barnett government and rail lessor Arc Infrastructure in 2013 and 2014 after being deemed commercially unviable.

Hopes of reviving the lines were reignited in March 2020 when Ms Saffioti commissioned the independent engineering assessment.

It outlined the cost of restoring each section of the Tier 3 network, coming up with two options — with the first for all lines to be upgraded while retaining the existing narrow gauge configuration (1067mm) at a cost of $1.09 billion.

The second was for the lines feeding into West Merredin to be upgraded to the wider standard gauge (1435mm) at a cost of $447m.

That would allow grain trains to be consolidated with longer wagons and to proceed straight to Kwinana Port on standard gauge.

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