Rail lobby group calls for track upgrade

Quick, low cost fix for grain rail woes

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RAIL FIX: The Rail Freight Institute has proposed a short-term, low cost fix to putting more grain on Victoria's rail network.

RAIL FIX: The Rail Freight Institute has proposed a short-term, low cost fix to putting more grain on Victoria's rail network.

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A Victorian rail lobby group has put up a new way of getting more grain transport off roads.

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A Victorian rail lobby group is urging the state government to spend between $15-20 million restoring a short section of unused track, near Bendigo, to help shift an expected bumper winter grain crop from the north-west.

The Rail Futures Institute has called on the government to repair and restore the 41 kilometres of track between Inglewood and Eaglehawk, north of Bendigo, damaged by floods in 2007 and 2011.

RFI president John Hearsch said the fix was as simple as replacing one in three sleepers, restoring an embankment at Inglewood and adding another 200metres of track, near the town.

It would significantly reduce travel times from the north-west of the state, as freight trains would not have to compete with passenger services, on the congested Ballarat line.

"That's to bring the line back to a point where it's useable again for grain trains," Mr Hearsch said.

"It's not really an upgrade, it's a restoration to get it back, fit for purpose."

He said the RFI was not looking for a v/Line led "gold plated" restoration, to bring the track back to long-term standards.

"The project would create badly needed jobs and could be completed in a few months," RFI president John Hearsch said.

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Bumper harvest

Restoring the line would significantly reduce the number of truck journeys, needed to cart what's predicted to be a bumper harvest.

RAIL UPGRADE: Silos at Dunnolly.

RAIL UPGRADE: Silos at Dunnolly.

Victoria is forecast to have a harvest of winter crops, wheat, barley and canola, of about one million tonnes, 16 per cent above the ten-year average yield.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics had forecast the Victorian harvest would be about 7.4 million tonnes, with a significant volume being yields from the Mallee and upper northern parts of the state.

"The total winter crop is equivalent to around 9.5 loaded grain trains, of 40 wagons per train, operating each day across the full year", he said.

"It can be expected that road carriage will account for some of this bumper harvest, but the rail task potentially will be significantly higher than for many years."

The upgrade would allow broad gauge grain trains on the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines - the Korong Vale group of lines - a second route to Melbourne or Geelong via Inglewood, Eaglehawk and Bendigo.

That would add to the Victorian rail network's capacity to deliver crops to ports for export.

"Trains on these lines have been restricted to a single route via Dunolly, Maryborough and Ballarat since the Inglewood-Eaglehawk line was put out of action owing to flood damage," Mr Hearsch said.

RFI was anticipating that the limited capacity of the rail network between Dunolly and Ballarat might force some of the grain harvest to be trucked to port unless a second rail route could be made available.

"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," Mr Hearsch said.

Currently, those grain trains could only reach Geelong, Portland or Melbourne through Ararat and so must travel through Maryborough.

Mr Hearsch said new sleepers, ballast and other materials needed to complete the restoration could mostly be sourced locally.

"Once reinstated, future options could include the development of new freight facilities on the corridor and potential extension of some V/Line Bendigo passenger services beyond Eaglehawk to Marong," he said.

"It will also restore a direct link between Bendigo's important rolling stock manufacturing and repair industry and a significant part of the rail network in north-western Victoria.

"We are urging a fast allocation of funding so that these labour-intensive works can be actioned between July and October so that this important freight link can again be made available to handle the forecast bumper grain harvest from November 2020."

Proposal backing

Mr Hearsch said the proposal had been supported by Loddon Shire Council and was about to be presented to the City of Greater Bendigo.

Loddon Shire councillor Neil Beattie, a former grain grower, said he supported the proposal, as long as it did not affect the troubled Murray Basin Rail Project.

"We don't want a situation where the government reopens it and says 'that's it, we've done our job,' and believes the MBRP is finished," Cr Beattie said.

"It's not finished at all; it's a diabolical mess."

He said councils and communities needed to get trucks off the road, or at least make sure there was no increase in movements.

"I've been a grain grower, and I can see how important it is to get these grain lines up to speed, in the north."

Cr Beattie said running freight, on passenger lines, was proving "pretty tricky."

Mr Hearsch agreed it should not replace the full completion of the MBRP.

Loddon Shire resolved to support the advocacy of the RFI for reopening of the Eaglehawk to Inglewood rail link, subject to it not being to the detriment of the completion of the Murray Basin Rail Project to its original specifications.

It will also write to Transport Minister Jacinta Allen and Freight Minister Melissa Horne in support of the proposal and seeking information about the state government's position on the matter.

The state government has been contacted for comment.

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