THE WESTERN Australian government is looking at recommissioning a freight line that would connect a lithium mine with Bunbury Port.
The government has allocated $3.3 million for a joint feasibility study focusing on the disused Greenbushes to Bunbury Railway Line.
Talison Lithium, which operates the Greenbushes lithium mines, plans to match the funding with a further $3.3 million.
The state government expects production from Greenbushes to rise to more than two million tonnes in the coming years.
Around 1.5 million tonnes of lithium mineral concentrate are currently moved between the Greenbushes Lithium Operation and Bunbury each year, equating to around 135 daily truck movements on the South Western Highway.
The state government said recommissioning the Greenbushes line and moving the lithium mineral concentrate by train would remove approximately 200 trucks movements from the highway each day.
Talison Lithium will work with rail network manager Arc Infrastructure and the state government on a detailed assessment of the engineering requirements to bring the railway line back into operation.
Arc Infrastructure noted the study would also look at new intermodal loading and unloading infrastructure and any requirements or modifications at Bunbury Port.
WA regional development minister Don Punch said the government, Talison Lithium and Arc began the recommissioning process in 2020 with a high-level feasibility study.
“This new study recognises the significant production increases and bright future for lithium projects in the South-West, as well as the potential to reduce the use of the region’s roads by heavy trucking,” Mr Punch said.
“A recommissioned Bunbury-Greenbushes rail link would also provide the impetus for greater use of the broader rail freight network linking the region with Perth.”
WA transport minister Rita Saffioti said global demand for lithium is growing rapidly, meaning production will increase at mines like Greenbushes.
“In the next five years, we’re expecting the number of truck movements to and from the Greenbushes Lithium Operation to increase to around 200 every day, which will further increase congestion on the road network,” Ms Saffioti said.
“Whilst there are significant positives such as reducing congestion, cutting emissions and improving road safety, we need to understand in detail what would be required to recommission the train line and the associated costs.”
Talison Lithium CEO Lorry Mignacca said the company was proud to be leading the work.
“We are committed to undertaking this study and are hopeful the results of the study will lead to decisions late next year to recommission the Greenbushes to Bunbury railway line which would take our product off the roads and assist with all our decarbonisation efforts.”
And Arc Infrastructure CEO Murray Cook said Arc has been working with Talison and the government for several years on this initiative and he was delighted to commence detailed studies.
“Arc looks forward to a successful outcome from the study and making a significant investment to upgrade the Greenbushes Railway Line to support Talison moving this important task from road to rail.”
Study findings will determine the cost of reinstatement of the track, level crossings and new terminal facilities in the Greenbushes and Bunbury areas, and a joint funding proposition between Talison Lithium, Arc Infrastructure and the government.
The process will also involve a substantial community impact assessment, recognising that trains have not been seen on the line for more than 15 years.
The study is expected to be completed in the second half of 2024.