Grain

Heavy use of Rainbow-Dimboola line makes the case for investment

After data showed that the Rainbow-Dimboola line had carried 33 return freight services and 66,000 tonnes of grain since it was reopened in April, the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) is calling on governments to upgrade regional freight lines.

VFF grains group president Ashley Fraser said that the grains industry in the Wimmera and Mallee regions had a high demand for rail freight.

“We know the demand is there, industry knows the demand is there and here is the government’s data demonstrating the demand is there. All that is required is a willingness to get on with the job,” said Fraser.

Freight demand in Victoria is expected to triple by 2051 and rail is seen as vital to take a greater share of this demand.

“The government should heed their own message in this case – improvements to Victoria’s regional rail freight network will take trucks off roads resulting in lower freight costs and better road maintenance and safety outcomes,” said Fraser.

So far, major upgrades to the network of freight lines which connect Victoria’s agricultural regions to its ports have stalled since the halting of the Murray Basin Rail Project. A bumper grain crop in 2020 and calls for infrastructure funding to boost COVID-19 affected economies are driving demands for the project to be restarted.

Funding for regional rail improvements was part of the Victorian government’s COVID-19 stimulus package, however focused on resleepering existing lines, rather than opening new lines or gauge conversions.

Fraser said that now was the time for the Victorian government to act and these projects would have the support of farmers.

“If the Victorian government build it, absolutely, the trains will come.”

MBRP should be delivered as originally planned: VFF

The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has called for the Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) to be delivered as originally promised.

VFF Grains Group President Ashley Fraser said that the delivery of upgrades to regional rail lines in the north-west of the state would be a critical for the region to come out of coronavirus (COVID-19).

“Rural Victoria is crying out for major infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy and provide much needed local jobs. This is a nation-building project and a no-brainer to give the green light,” he said.

“This project is also key to unlocking the agricultural potential and prosperity of North West Victoria and Sunraysia and will help Victorian agriculture and the grains industry lead the nation’s economic recovery.”

The MBRP has been stalled since funds ran out and a dispute between V/Line and the contractor increased costs. Stage one of the project is complete, however stage two is only partially complete, with further stages unclear.

A new business case has been submitted by the Victorian government to the federal government for funding, however a decision is yet to be made.

Fraser said that farmers and industry needed the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines to be standardised.

“We supported the project as it was slated in 2014 and we support it today, but that support is for the full project as promised, including the standardisation of the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines.”

The two lines are currently remnants of Victoria’s broad gauge network, which requires freight to be swapped from broad gauge to standard gauge to get past Maryborough and access the ports of Melbourne, Geelong, and Portland. Standardising these lines would also future-proof Victoria’s rail network, said Fraser.

“Failure to standardise the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines would effectively isolate them from the rest of the Victorian and interstate network, including the Inland Rail, which goes against the benefits of the entire project,” said Fraser.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project was always about growing capacity, improving efficiency and providing better access from Victoria’s key grain and horticulture growing regions to major ports. We must not lose sight of this and now is the time is now to do the job properly.”