Work on the single biggest rail infrastructure plan in the South-West for almost 20 years will get underway in October.
Transport Minister Pam Beggs today said the $13.5 million project would see big-scale development in the Bunbury inner harbour and would transform Westrail's operations in the Bunbury region.
The plan also is the forerunner to the possible upgrading of the Bunbury-Kwinana railway to standard gauge, an initiative outlined by Premier Dr Carmen Lawrence in the WA Advantage economic strategy released earlier this year.
Mrs Beggs said consulting engineers Halpern Glick Maunsell had begun a feasibility study into the standard gauge line.
The study, due to be completed later this year, would identify the possible freight tasks between Bunbury and Perth and Bunbury and other parts of Australia.
It also would look at possible freight tasks in the general Bunbury region that might benefit by being linked to the standard gauge rail network.
Mrs Beggs said the study also would consider the relationship between a possible high speed passenger rail service and a standard gauge line between Bunbury and the metropolitan area.
The consultants, in association with management accountants Ernst and Young would liaise with key representatives of the Bunbury community.
Mrs Beggs said the rail infrastructure plan was part of a $454 million upgrade to the national rail system announced by Prime Minister Paul Keating in his One Nation Statement last February.
"Under the South-West project, the area bounded by Kwinana, Collie and Bunbury has been declared a superior efficiency zone," Mrs Beggs said.
"The region accounts for more than 85 per cent of ores and minerals transported by Westrail and projections are that by 1997-98, about eight million tonnes a year will be railed to the port of Bunbury.
"Currently, Westrail hauls bauxite for Alcoa, and alumina and caustic between Pinjarra, Wagerup and Worsely and the ports in Kwinana and Bunbury for Alcoa and Worsley.
"Coal and mineral sands also are a major component of the rail freight task."
Mrs Beggs said that of the $13.5 million earmarked for the project, about $9 million would be spent directly in Bunbury, making it the biggest rail upgrade in the port area since the mid-1970s.
The work would generate direct employment for 70 people and indirect employment for a further 60 to 70.
Local businesses would have the opportunity to tender for earthworks, bridge construction and general plant hire components of the project.
Work was due to begin on the inner harbour phase in early October and the overall project was scheduled to be finished by mid-June next year.
"The project also will have major benefits for Westrail and its clients," Mrs Beggs said.
"For example, productivity gains have been estimated at 40 per cent per locomotive.
"As well, Westrail is introducing new business initiatives which aim at handling 25 per cent more freight over the next five years with only minor increases in resources.
"Westrail also is aiming to improve its cost competitiveness by between 20 and 25 per cent with significant savings being passed on to clients."
The project includes track improvements and lengthening crossing loops to allow longer trains to be hauled.
It also will dovetail into plans to serve Bunbury's new inner harbour berth area which will facilitate new business opportunities for the Westrail and the Bunbury Port Authority.