Rail expansion to accommodate growing grain harvests
The most significant enhancement to Western Australia's grain supply chain infrastructure in more than a decade began earlier this year, with construction to expand the railway sidings at the CBH Group’s Brookton and Broomehill receival sites kicking off.
Work on the sidings at Brookton began in February and are being constructed by civil infrastructure provider Multiplant, allowing for longer trains to load grain without causing congestion on the main line. This will improve rail efficiency and ensure the supply chain can transport more grain to customers.
At Broomehill, contractors Martinus Rail and Aerison mobilised to site and commenced works in preparation for the rail siding extension and new rapid loading facility in May.
The two projects are the first of 11 rail siding upgrades slated as part of package one of the $200 million Agricultural Supply Chain Improvement (ASCI) program, split 80:20 between the Federal and State governments respectively.
CBH is also investing more than $200m in new infrastructure at each rail siding extension, maximising the grain outloading capability at key sites in its storage and handling network.
Work at Moora and Cranbrook is also anticipated to start this year, while the remaining sites at Avon, Kellerberrin, Dowerin, Konnongorring, Ballidu, Mingenew and Perenjori North are expected to begin construction in 2024.
Improving outloading at Brookton
The project at Brookton includes significant upgrades to fixed storage facilities and increasing the site’s outloading capacity.
“Improving the outloading capabilities of Western Australia’s grain supply chain is a major focus for CBH,” says CBH CEO Ben Macnamara.
“We are proud to invest alongside the Government’s rail siding projects with rapid rail loading infrastructure to ensure longer trains can be loaded faster and get to port more efficiently.”
The Brookton project has also created 34 jobs, employed three local civil works contractors and a further three Indigenous businesses to carry out site works.
In addition, building and civil materials have been sourced from local quarries and farms.
CBH expects construction at Brookton to be completed by the end of this year.
Faster loading for Broomehill
Work at Broomehill was initially slated to begin in March, but preparations at the site for the rail siding extension and new rapid loading facility did not start until the second week of May.
The rail siding works include more than two kilometres of replacement track adjacent to the mainline, replacing the existing rail siding, enabling the loading of a 60-wagon train and a third train set to be run in the Albany Zone.
The fixed rail loading facility consists of four 1100-tonne V-bottom silos, a 500t per hour auger pit, 500t/hr elevator with drag conveyors, a 1500t/hr loading elevator, a state-of-the-art control room, and the ability to recirculate grain and outload to train or truck.
Macnamara says the back-to-back record WA harvests highlights the need to continue investing in the supply chain so they have a network that can sustainably deliver long-term value to WA growers.
“Once complete, we expect Broomehill to add almost 100,000t to our monthly peak export capacity, thanks to a significant increase in rail outloading capability,” he says.
"It currently takes 30-wagon trains up to 10 hours to load at Broomehill due to outloading constraints and the short rail siding at the site.
"When complete, this project is expected to cut the loading time by more than half and double the volume of grain going to valuable export markets through the Port of Albany."
What is the ASCI program?
The ASCI program is the implementation phase of the WA Government’s Revitalising Agricultural Region Freight (RARF) strategy, which was finalised in June 2020 and sets the direction for future investment in freight infrastructure in WA’s key agricultural regions.
As part of that implementation, a stage one business case was submitted to Infrastructure Australia in August 2021.The $200m joint State and Federal funding contribution was announced in May 2022.
WA Transport Minister the Hon. Rita Saffioti MLA says the $200m will ensure the State’s regional freight network continues to keep up with demand.
"We are already spending a record amount on regional roads and we are now able to prioritise further investment on the regional freight rail network,” Minister Saffioti says.
"The ASCI rail project funding, closely aligned with CBH's train loading investments, will deliver freight cost savings and grain price benefits each year to grain growers throughout the agricultural region."
Other projects on the horizon
Under stage one, $60m was also provided for upgrading the Midland line from 16 Tonne Axle Loading (TAL) to 19 TAL between Carnamah and Mingenew, allowing heavier trains and a 20% increase in train loads.
With about 400,000t of grain per year being carried on this section, the upgrade will provide operational improvements and freight cost savings for all grain growers delivering to bins on selected line sections.
It also includes $72m for the southern Wheatbelt region, to be used for the progressive recommissioning of the Narrogin-Kulin rail line, which was closed in 2013, and associated works to service grain and other potential customers in the Narrogin-Wickepin area, a Tier 3 line.
The first stage will be a study to assess the most beneficial option for freight users and the community.
“The focus is currently on delivering the 11 new rail sidings that will be delivered as part of this package, with upgrades to the Midland line to follow,” Minister Saffioti says.
“We’ve recently awarded contracts to Agonis Group and Jacobs Australia to deliver the Narrogin-Kulin-Wickepin Tier 3 Recommissioning Study, which will be completed over the coming three months.
"The study will give us the valuable data and insights we need to make informed decisions about this investment in the region's freight network.”
All stage one projects are scheduled to be completed by 2026 and the State Government is in discussion with the Commonwealth and industry partners regarding a potential stage two package.