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CANADIAN asset manager Brookfield has unveiled plans for a huge expansion in the capacity of Western Australia's key rail network as it strives to meet soaring demand from the state's growing number of resources projects.
The company also announced yesterday it would rebadge its WestNet Rail business as Brookfield Rail.
Brookfield Rail owns 5000km of track which supports more than 270,000 train movements across the southern half of WA. It also moves 80 per cent of all general freight from the east coast.
Brookfield Rail chief executive Paul Larsen said freight volumes were expected to soar 45 per cent over the next 18 months from 55 million tonnes a year to more than 80 million tonnes a year.
Freight volumes could double over the next five years as more contracts with mining companies were signed.
The planned pace of expansion was highlighted by the fact the rail network moved 30 million tonnes a year when it was privatised 10 years ago, he said.
Brookfield recently signed contracts to move commodities with Gindalbie Metals' Karara iron ore project and Mount Gibson's iron ore mine in WA's mid-west region, as well as Perdaman Chemicals' planned $3.5 billion urea plant near Collie in the southwest. It has also agreed to terms with BHP Billiton's Worsley alumina refinery near Collie, Mineral Resources' iron ore project near Southern Cross and Cliffs Natural Resources' iron ore mine at Koolyanobbing.
The forecast cost of expansion was more than $500 million over the next 18 months.
Mr Larsen said Brookfield had no plans to look for growth opportunities in northern regions of WA such as the Pilbara, where most of the rail networks are owned by mining companies.
"Brookfield Rail is focused on opportunities around that railway (in the south) rather than expansion into other areas of the state," he said. Brookfield took control of WestNet Rail from Prime Infrastructure, the successor company to the collapsed Babcock & Brown Infrastructure.
The railway runs from Geraldton in the midwest to Leonora in the Goldfields and south to Esperance and Albany.
Mr Larsen said Brookfield's backing was important to the rail network's success.
"We need access to capital, we need to be able to retain and build a team, and keep running the railways safely and sustainably," he said.
"Having Brookfield behind us helps us tick all of those boxes and deliver on that growth, which is good for the economy of WA."
Mr Larsen said interstate freight was also expected to grow in coming years.
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