Farmers and exporters in Victoria's west are already benefitting from the return of the Rainbow-Dimboola rail line, with new data showing the line is being heavily used.
Ports and Freight Minister Melissa Horne said 33 return freight services had shifted around 66,000 tonnes of grain, since the line was reopened in April after extensive sleeper replacement works.
"We know how important the Rainbow-Dimboola line is for farmers and freight operators and we've ensured the line has reopened in time to help farmers capitalise on what's expected to be a bumper winter grain harvest," Ms Horne said.
"The usage we're seeing on the line shows how beneficial our rail freight investment is to farmers, who now have a cost-effective means of transporting their crops."
Ms Horne said the Victorian government's investment in the line was cutting freight costs for farmers and taking trucks off roads around the state.
Each train journey on the Rainbow-Dimboola line was the equivalent to removing 50 B-double truck trips off Victorian roads.
The return of freight trains to the line is already delivering a significant economic boost to the region, too.
Local farmers were expected to save more than $1.5 million this season through lower freight costs.
The Rainbow-Dimboola line was expected to carry about 150,000 tonnes of grain this season, which will save around 7,000 return truck trips.
The line was temporarily closed earlier this year while $1 million worth of track upgrades took place to ensure freight could operate safely.
Ms Horne said the line was also included in an $83 million freight package, which will focus on replacing sleepers and repairing ballast around the state, as part of the government's economic response to the coronavirus.
Rail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said the $83m would go a fair way to improving the quality of the freight only network, provided it was spent on maintenance funding that would improve existing track quality.
That should happen primarily through installation of new sleepers, attention to drainage and additional ballast.
He said the freight only tracks, to be covered by the spending were Korong Vale - Inglewood, Dunolly - Inglewood, Dimboola - Rainbow, and Murtoa Hopetoun, as well as Sunbury to Bendigo.
"The above distances are respectively 32 km, 40 km, 66 km and 112 km totalling 250 km, some 150 km short of the 400km figure mentioned," Mr Hearsch said.
The Bendigo line was included, as a shared passenger and freight corridor.
"This seems to be another ad hoc funding allocation for "catch up" maintenance works on the freight-only network, whereas the annual budgeting process should provide sufficient funding for these lines to be adequately maintained on an ongoing basis."
The Victorian Farmers Federation Grains Group president Ashley Fraser said data on the heavy use of the reinstated Rainbow-Dimboola rail line proved the case for further investment in the Murray Basin Rail Project.
"We know the demand is there, industry knows the demand is there and here is the government's data demonstrating the demand is there," Mr Fraser said.
"All that is required is a willingness to get on with the job.
"If they (the Victorian Government) build it, absolutely, the trains will come." Yesterday the Victorian Government recognised the need to invest in rail freight with Victorian freight volumes expected to triple by 2051 putting even more pressure on regional Victoria's crumbling road network."
He said the government should heed their own message - improvements to Victoria's regional rail freight network would take trucks off roads, resulting in lower freight costs and better road maintenance and safety outcomes.
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