A forecast record grain crop is leading to calls for improvements to the regional freight network in Victoria.
Advocacy group Rail Futures Institute has identified the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines, the Korong Vale group, as ripe for improvement to shift a bumper winter crop.
“We are urging a fast allocation of funding so that these labour-intensive works can be actioned between July and October of this year so that this important freight link can again be made available to handle the forecast bumper grain harvest from November 2020,” Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences, this year’s winter crop is forecast to reach 7.4 million tonnes, 16 per cent above the ten year average to 2018-2019 and double last year’s crop.
With a limited capacity on freight lines between Dunolly and Ballarat, extra grain may have to be hauled by truck, costing growers.
“In offering a second option for Korong Vale Group grain trains to go south, the number of broad gauge trains proceeding via Dunolly and Maryborough can be reduced, releasing more train paths for standard gauge trains from the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which can only reach Geelong, Portland, or Melbourne via Ararat and so must travel through Maryborough,” said Hearsch.
Rail Futures Institute points out that the 41km of track in need of an update involves replacement of sleepers, repairs to areas damaged by floods in 2007 and 2011 and reactivation of the rail junctions at Inglewood and Eaglehawk. The relatively minor improvements could also be completed using locally sourced materials, said Hearsch.
Other benefits would include the potential extension of regional passenger services from Bendigo to Marong and a connection between Bendigo rollingstock manufacturing and repair workshops and the rail network in north-western Victoria.
The Victorian government is currently finalising an updated businesses case for the stalled Murray Basin Rail Project, which intended to upgrade the Korong Vale group lines. Once complete, the business case will be presented to the federal government for consideration for funding further stages.