43m to upgrade rail freight lines
THE Victorian Government has moved to ease the crisis in the state's rail freight system with a $43 million package to upgrade key lines.
The Government will improve the speed limits on six grain lines that the Fischer rail freight review recommended be upgraded to "gold" standard as a priority.
These lines, which form a core grain network, are Korong Vale-Quambatook, Korong Vale-Charlton, Murtoa-Warracknabeal, Shepparton-Tocumwal, Swan Hill-Piangil, and Mildura-Yelta.
A Government spokesman said work was expected to start in July to get as much done as possible before the winter harvest.
The $42.7 million package consists of $23.7 million to be spent on the first stage of the six gold lines upgrades and $19 million on general maintenance across the freight network.
Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky said the Government was committed to transporting freight by rail.
The Victorian Farmers Federation welcomed the package. "Farmers will be pleased with the response we have received from the Victorian Government," said VFF president Simon Ramsay.
Ms Kosky said gold lines between Dunolly-Korong Vale and Echuca-Barnes had already been upgraded. The Fischer report recommended the gold line between Maroona and Portland for rehabilitation in 2010-11.
The rail freight review, chaired by former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, recommended a prioritised upgrading of the Victorian network, from platinum to gold, silver and bronze quality.
It estimated the total investment package would cost $140 million, plus an ongoing $25 million for annual maintenance beyond 2011.
Meanwhile, Boinka graingrower Ian Brown has called on the Government to upgrade and standardise the line from Ouyen to the South Australian border. The Fischer review classed this line as silver.
Mr Brown said the line, which was vital for the local grains industry, had been closed last year because it was deemed unsafe.
It would cost about $10 million to upgrade and standardise, which would enable it to link in with the standardised line in SA at Pinnaroo. "If we have a big harvest this year, we will be in real trouble without rail," he said.
Meanwhile, expressions of interest to buy Mildura's Wakefield Transport Group close tomorrow with administrator Deloitte.
Wakefield, the main freight carrier between Mildura and Melbourne, went into voluntary administration last month. It has about $25 million turnover.
Its failure is symptomatic of the crisis in Victorian country rail. Rail giant Pacific National has signalled it will stop running freight trains because it is losing too much money, and the rail network is increasingly ramshackle.