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The elevation of Footscray Road, which will dramatically expand Port of Melbourne capacity and efficiency, is a key project in the Federal Government's $1.9 billion AusLink program to be launched today.
Port of Melbourne chief executive Stephen Bradford has described raising Footscray Road as Australia's most important infrastructure project under AusLink.
It would allow full integration between the docks and the Dynon rail precinct, creating what Patrick Corp chief executive Chris Corrigan last month said would be a world-class transport hub.
The $100-plus million project would be the cornerstone of a foreshadowed $100 million Patrick expansion at Swanson Dock.
Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services John Anderson will launch AusLink, an $11.8 billion five-year overhaul of road and rail transport planning and funding.
The AusLink philosophy is to integrate rail and road to create the best transport solution for particular regions. Creating more efficient access to the nation's ports will be a key priority.
Rail will have a bigger role in carrying the nation's freight, which is expected to double between now and 2020. Urban freight will increase 70 per cent in the same period.
AusLink will fund Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) work through Tottenham and Sunshine to allow better access for freight trains.
Other improvements will benefit the CargoSprinter trains of Altona company CRT Group that carry freight in urban areas.
At the centre of today's package will be $550 million to be spent mainly on upgrading the Melbourne to Sydney rail link.
A favoured Victorian project in this corridor would be standardisation of the broad-gauge rail line linking Albury and Mangalore near Seymour. The broad-gauge track runs parallel to the main standard-gauge track between Melbourne and Sydney.
Creating more efficient access to the nation's ports will be a key priority.
This work would complement ARTC plans to upgrade the main standard-gauge line and thus increase the Melbourne-Albury rail corridor's capacity.
ARTC, a Commonwealth body, controls the interstate track.
Other projects on Victoria's wish list are standardisation of the broad-gauge track between Mildura and the Port of Geelong, and standardisation of the broad-gauge track between Heywood in western Victoria and Mount Gambier in South Australia.
The latter project would open up the Port of Portland via Heywood to all the timber traffic from the Mount Gambier area, particularly the massive amounts of blue gum woodchips expected to come on stream by the end of the decade.
The $550 million will push the amount the Federal Government is spending on rail to $1.8 billion, the biggest funding injection to rail for decades. This includes $450 million allocated to ARTC in the budget to upgrade the Sydney to Brisbane line, and $872 million on rail infrastructure in NSW.
The latter sum was formalised on Friday, when the NSW Government and Federal Government signed an agreement to lease the NSW interstate track and Hunter Valley rail corridors to ARTC for 60 years.
The agreement delivers the $872 million package, which includes funds from the NSW Government and Federal Government and an ARTC five-year infrastructure investment program.
It is the final piece in the puzzle to have a national rail freight network, with ARTC now controlling every state except small parts of Queensland and Western Australia.
A consultant, Martin Feil, said AusLink had the potential to be one of the biggest government projects since the Snowy River Mountain Scheme.
Mr Feil said the freight and logistics sector had a turnover of about $70 billion. With the doubling of freight and a 3 per cent compound growth in prices, the sector could have $200 billion turnover by 2020.
"Between Melbourne and Brisbane, if they can increase rail from 20 to 40 per cent of the market - those are figures cited in AusLink and also by Toll chief Paul Little - that's an increase in market value of $28 billion," he said.
"That's the prize that rail is playing for in AusLink."
The comments put in perspective the stakes that are on the table with Pacific National's planned $285 million acquisition of Freight Australia.
PN, a joint venture between Patrick and Toll Holdings, is the dominant player in NSW and on the interstate track, and the track upgrades will substantially boost the company's performance.
Acquisition of Freight Australia's Victorian operations as well would give PN a supreme position in the eastern seaboard rail market, creating what rivals fear could be a monopoly.
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