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A leading Riverina agribusiness consultant says the Australian Rail Track Corporation’s decision to route the Inland Rail through Albury and Wagga is based on outdated data.
Matrix Commodities executive chairman David Farley had been following the inland rail debate for several years and believed the ARTC model used data about southern NSW and northern Victoria from the nearly decade long drought conditions of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“From the Murray and Goulburn valleys to the Riverina and MIA massive agribusiness processing and value adding investments have been developed and are exporting goods out of Australia,” the Narrandera-based former AACo boss said. “Between the Murray-Goulburn Valley and the Riverina, MIA and Coleambally irrigation schemes in excess of $10billion of agricultural production is harvested and processed annually.
“Future improvements and productivity gains in irrigation and dryland farming will only accentuate the need for out and inbound logistics into both food bowl regions.”
ARTC said a 2010 study found a Shepparton-Tocumwal route would be 30 minutes faster but required almost $1billion extra capital and would attract “a very small amount of regional freight”.
Mr Farley said that extra expenditure was difficult to rationalise and believed the route selection was a political decision.
“Government owns a rail corridor between Tocumwal and Narrandera, it’s the munitions corridor for defending Australia during the second World War,” he said.
“This corridor exists. There is no need for land purchase, and limited need for environmental study.
“The route is flatter and with less curvature, less distance between the two cities. The ARTC estimate of an extra $1billion of expenditure is difficult to rationalise when so much is already in place.
“A new rail line is also political and many federal members want the rail through their electorates.”
He said the Food Bowl Inland Rail Association, covering 11 shires and seven federal electorates, wanted “proper current due diligence” on the agribusiness production and logistics requirements before any decision on the route was locked in.
A project of this scale needed to be based on current information and future forecasts, not historical data, Mr Farley believed.
“Australia has a once in a century opportunity to get this rail routing decision right , and it’s definitely not right now.”
An early vocal proponent for the Goulburn Valley-Tocumwal-MIA option, Member for Murray Damian Drum, conceded the route was unlikely to be realigned.
He said the focus should be on how to connect the region’s food bowls to it.
“It seems to be locked in,” Mr Drum said.
“What we’re now looking at is probably an additional project so that when this thing is up and running and operational we need to be able to get the greater Goulburn Valley’s 1.7million tonnes of produce off roads and onto rail.”
Mr Drum confirmed ARTC’s study that little Goulburn Valley produce was destined for northern ports, saying 90 per cent went south and was shipped out of the Port of Melbourne.
“If you get a high quality line from Cobram, Tocumwal, through the Goulburn Valley to a big distribution centre on the northern edge of Melbourne you could send your produce there, three hours on the train, then a small percentage of it might then be turned around and sent north.
“That means you’re probably looking at a standard gauge line servicing freight for the greater Goulburn Valley region.”
This article first appeared on www.dailyadvertiser.com.au
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