WHEN the Victorian premier pledged to what he touts the biggest upgrade to regional rail freight in decades in Maryborough on Monday, one farmer was on hand to welcome the news.
“I’ve been trying to talk standardised rail gauge for over ten years and for [other] people in VFF it's been even longer than that,” Victoria Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said.
“I don't know who built two different railway gauges in Victoria, but it was a very, very foolish thing to do.”
That mistake would be consigned to the history books under the Murray Basin Rail Project, to which Premier Daniel Andrews committed this week. But it will come at a cost.
The government said it will amount to $416 million – almost double what it has so far budgeted. Of that, northern Victoria will receive $220 million.
Mr Tuohey said it could save farmers of $5 and $10 per tonne in transport costs.
“And Victorian farmers compete on globally competitive market, we need to have a have a really good supply chain that is cost effective,” he said.
Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan said major works were expected to commence the second half of 2016.
“[Which will] allow this current grain season to be done and dusted,” she said.
“Then, of course, there’ll need to be another pause in the program... once the grain season of 2017/18 gets underway.”
The premier said 270 jobs will be created during construction.
“That's very important to communities right throughout this region,” he said.
“[That is] is 270 pay packets, it will mean people buying their lunches, renting properties, staying in hotels and [jobs] for people who come from the from the regional as well.”
Work could be completed in 2018, subject to support from Canberra.
Mr Tuohey said the VFF would be lobbying to get federal funds for the project, describing this as a one-off opportunity to “get it right”.
”The federal government said they’re the infrastructure government,” he said.
“So I think it’s time they put money where they talk and this is a great project.”
Every year 2 million tonnes of grain is moved by freight from the Murray Basin, as well as 1-1.5 million tonnes of mineral sands and 13,000 export containers of grain, wine, grapes, citrus, dried fruit and juice.
THE Murray Basin Rail Project will remove around 20,000 truck trips to the ports each year, Public Transport Jacinta Allan said.
The member for Bendigo East said axle loading on the freight lines would be increased to 21 tonnes, allowing larger trains to carry more product with each trip and easing pressure on communities to maintain their roads.
“The small shires like Central Goldfields, Loddon, Buloke – those small shires have to maintain the wear and tear on their local road network,” she said.
“And taking more trucks of the road and getting the freight onto rail obviously isn’t just great for producers and councils… and it's also safer.”
Victoria Farmers Federation president Peter Tuohey said increased haulage capacity would encourage big grain producers to invest in rail.
“[Because] that'll reduce their costs and it will encourage them to invest more in more modern equipment, it'll make it easier for them to move grain to port, again creating more efficiencies,” Mr Tuohey said.