freight

Resumption of Murray Basin Rail project a “national priority”: Rail freight businesses

The Freight on Rail Group has called upon the federal government to fund the resumption of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

The coalition of rail freight businesses, chaired by Dean Dalla Valle said that with the Victorian government committing $48.8m in funding, the Commonwealth needed to come to the table as well.

“This commitment from the Victorian government is welcome – as a nation we need to get this rail freight network humming again. Given we could see another bumper crop next year, industry encourages the Commonwealth to also commit extra funding to help get the network back on track,” said Dalla Valle.

Getting the project back on track would improve the productivity of the Victorian rail network, and with forecast bumper grain harvests, the need for investment is critical.

“Due to well-documented problems with rail infrastructure in the basin, I’ve heard almost 70 percent of export grain this season will be transported by truck to Victorian ports – this is an extremely poor outcome for society; and certainly not good for regional councils already struggling to repair and maintain large road networks,” said Dalla Valle.

Since stalling in 2019, the partially completed project has led to a decline in freight carried by rail in the region. Groups including farmers, grain haulers, and now freight rail businesses are highlighting the importance of an efficient freight network.

“Inefficient transport supply chains corrode the core fundamentals of state and national economic productivity; destroying jobs and increasing cost of living pressures for millions of Australians,” said Dalla Valle.

The opportunity to reinvigorate the Murray Basin rail network had positives on a number of fronts, said Dalla Valle, beyond agricultural productivity. Moving more freight by rail would make roads safer for passenger vehicle by reducing accidents and wear and tear on roads. Additionally, as rail freight is less emissions intensive than road freight, Australia could reduce transport emissions. According to a 2017 Deloitte Access Economics report, for every kilometre of freight transport, rail produces 16 times less carbon pollution than road freight, and 14 times less accident costs.

Rebuilding the network would also provide a boost for regional economies and the Australian supply chain.

“Just imagine all the Australian-made steel that will be used in upgrading and standardising the network with new track – additional support for this project should be of the highest national priority,” said Dalla Valle.

Revised MBRP business case drops standardisation of Sea Lake and Manangatang lines

The Victorian government has released the revised business case for the Murray Basin Rail Project and dropped the project’s initial goal of standardising the region’s freight network.

The long-awaited business case outlines the way forward for the troubled project, which halted in mid-2019 due to a lack of funds.

With stage one delivered and stage 2 partially delivered, the Murrayville and Yelta lines were standardised and the Maryborough to Ararat line reopened as standard gauge. The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines remained broad gauge, and the revised business case proposes to continue this split.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure Jacinta Allan said that the Victorian government was disappointed that funding for the project was not included in the 2020 federal budget, and was the only project on the state government’s wishlist of projects to not receive funding.

“This project is too important to play politics with – we want the Commonwealth to come forward with their support so we can get more freight on trains and more trucks off regional roads.”

To complete the revised scope of works, the Victorian government has announced they will commit $48.8 million and are asking the federal government to contribute $195.2m.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said that the federal government had already contributed $240m to the project and that project errors were the responsibility of the Victorian government.

“It is important to remember that the Victorian Labor government was responsible for delivering this project and actively chose to lay 100-year-old steel as part of its ‘upgrade,” he said.

“I look forward to hearing the views of industry and communities on the proposal and document released yesterday by the Victorian government.

The report notes that the time and cost of delivering the project to its original scope has now increased and there is greater potential for conflict with passenger services in the standardisation of the Gheringhap to Ballarat section and the Ballarat corridor.

The Rail Freight Alliance (RFA), a grouping of councils pushing for more freight to be handled by rail, said in a statement that the revised business case amounted to fixing problems caused by the initial works.

“What it appears Minister Allan has announced today is repairs to the shoddy and substandard work that has hampered this project from the inception. Rerailing the section of line between Maryborough and Ararat that was done as part of the project in 2017 with some sections of century old rail and putting back some staging areas that were removed as part of the MBRP only a few years ago.”

Works to be immediately completed under the revised business case include re-railing 88km on the Ararat to Maryborough line, where old rail was re-used, signalling works at Ararat Junction and Maryborough Yard. Further works include passing loops, instituting electronic train ordering, resleepering, and improvements to sidings.

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne said that if funded, the project would increase export volumes.

“These works will boost our freight network’s capacity and efficiency to get more Victorian products exported. We just need the Commonwealth to come to the table with their support.”

IBAC announces corruption investigation into V/Line and Metro

Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) has formally announced that it is conducting an investigation into serious corrupt conduct in Victoria’s public transport sector.

The announcement follows months of rumours which have swirled since V/Line CEO James Pinder was stood down by the Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll in August.

The investigation will focus on procurement and tendering processes within the Victorian public transport sector, with suggestions that cleaning contracts may be a focus.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the investigation would cover the management of contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers.

“The hearings will examine the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential services in the state’s public transport system during a time of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Victorians,” said Redlich.

Hearings will begin on Monday, October 26 and be streamed online.

“As part of IBAC’s focus on preventing corruption, the public hearings will also consider whether the current systems and controls are sufficient to protect the integrity of the tendering and procurement process, and examine potential systemic issues, including how organisational culture and practices may have contributed,” said Redlich.

Hearings will look into whether contract tender and procurement processes were swayed by monetary incentives or gifts.

Since being stood down, Pinder has been replaced by Gary Liddle, who had previously steered V/Line through a troubled period in 2016 when safety concerns led to regional services not being able to travel through Melbourne. Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport briefly stood in before Liddle was appointed.

Metro Trains rollingstock manager Peter Bollas was also stood down in August due to the same investigation.

Mildura Line

Ouyen intermodal future awaits MBRP outcome

A community group in in Ouyen, north-west Victoria, is closing in on the construction of a new intermodal terminal, however is awaiting one missing link; the replacement of a rail siding removed in the aborted Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP).

The Ouyen Intermodal Project, backed by local development organisation Ouyen Inc, hopes to remove roughly 9,000 trucks off rural roads in the region with five weekly train services between Ouyen and the Port of Melbourne.

The facility would serve local agricultural businesses seeking to get products to port, including hay growers Wingara AG who announced this week its subsidiary JC Tanloden is planning to construct a hay processing plant in Ouyen. The hay, grown in the Mallee region, would be processed at Ouyen and then transported by rail to the Port of Melbourne for export.

Other industries keen for an intermodal facility at Ouyen include grape growers and mineral sands enterprises.

According to Ouyen Inc president Scott Anderson, the facility would be welcomed by growers, transport businesses and the local community.

“With the right governance structure and operators in place we are confident of getting these big freight volumes off the road and onto the rail network. We don’t want to compete against the road transport industry in North West Victoria, but instead work with them. These companies already have existing export warehouses and cool rooms established, so working in conjunction with them means not having to duplicate this system at Ouyen.”

Project consultant Michael O’Callaghan said the choice of situating the intermodal facility at Ouyen was also strategic for freight rail operations.

“Our selected site will allow a short road haul from warehouse or farm to a rail terminal that is the furthest distance from the Port of Melbourne, where trains can get up and back in a day, unloading and reloading at both ends and refuelling on a consistent basis. This is considered the ‘holy grail’ of running freight trains into North West Victoria.”

With an agreement now negotiated between Ouyen Inc and the landowner, a Heads of Agreement with a national intermodal operator, and support from local exporters, the only thing holding back the terminal is its connection to the rail network.

The former rail siding was removed during the first stage of the MBRP, which involved converting the Mildura and Murrayville lines, which Ouyen sits at the junction of, from broad to standard gauge. With the revised business case for the MBRP awaiting federal government approval, Ouyen Inc. is calling upon the Victorian government to ensure that the siding is replaced.

While a Victorian Department of Transport spokesperson would not commit to the works, they encouraged further development of the proposal.

“The Department of Transport is aware of ongoing work towards establishing an intermodal terminal in Ouyen and encourages the proponents to continue working on the necessary elements to demonstrate the terminal is commercially sustainable,” the spokesperson said.

“We look forward to further discussions regarding this proposal as the proponents continue to advance it.”

With a business case being prepared on behalf of Ouyen Inc, the construction of the facility, scheduled for December 2021, hinges upon government support.