Balingup Rail Group (BRG)
"Leschenault Lady" Vintage Train at Dardanup station (c.1970) Photo: J Joyce; Rail Heritage,T04513
BRG is a committee established by the Balingup Progress Association (Inc.) ("BPA") in 2018 as a result of community concern at the detrimental effect on road safety on the South West Highway, and on the amenity of Highway towns, caused by transportation on the Highway, and through the towns, of lithium ore from the Greenbushes lithium mine by high-frequency road trains.
BRG was established to examine and report on two issues. First, possible use of the South West rail line between Bunbury and Bridgetown to replace the road transport of lithium ore and, second, the prospect of establishing a tourist rail service between Bunbury and Bridgetown if use of the line became available.
Members of BRG are persons of considerable expertise with wide experience at managerial level in the fields of transport (road and rail), business, engineering, tourism, and finance. It includes the Operations Manager of Talison Lithium and a Councillor of the Bridgetown-Greenbushes Shire.
With reference to the first objective of the Committee's charter, namely, to secure road safety and preserve town amenity, BRG has supported, and through the BPA has kept the community informed of, the work of the South West Development Commission in establishing participation by Talison Lithium and Arc Infrastructure (lessee of the rail line) in a pre-feasibility study of the possibility of shifting the lithium ore transport from road to rail. As a result of that work there has been engagement in consultation with Government on the issue of re-opening the line and the recent announcement by Government of the provision of funds for a feasibility study into further development of the Bunbury Port complex and Kwinana Bulk Terminal to support the export and processing of lithium ore with the aim of assessing the viability of a rail based supply chain assisted by those improvements.
In respect of the second objective, examination of a tourist rail service between Bunbury and Bridgetown, BRG has submitted to the South West Development Commission that a feasibility study on that proposal should be conducted. The Committee considers that the outcome of such a study could provide substantial support for achievement of the first objective.
Tourism is a vital element of the South West, State and Commonwealth economies and, as is already evident, domestic tourism has taken on enhanced importance to the State since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
BRG considers that Government support for re-opening the line and seeking financial aid for that purpose from Infrastructure Australia could be encouraged, and assisted, if the case for transfer of lithium ore haulage from road to rail were complemented by a cogent argument for development of a tourist rail service on the line. It is arguably the most scenic section of rail line in the State with each town that is served by it connected to a significant tourist attraction.
Assessment of the benefit to be received by Government from the expense incurred in re-opening the line would not be confined to the reduced cost of maintenance of South West Highway, improvement of road safety, and the restored amenity of towns on the Highway, but would include the prospect of a boost to development of tourism in the South West region with associated economic dividends.
The argument for re-opening the rail line extends beyond the interests of Balingup and is a proposal for the use of State infrastructure for the benefit of the whole of the South West.