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THE "catastrophic failings" of the Murray Basin Rail Project will have a significant impact on the export of Sunraysia produce this harvest season, according to the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA).
RFA also predicted there would be more trucks using the road network due to slow rail line speeds, which would defeat the project's aim of removing 20,000 truck movements.
"Not all the Sunraysia harvest will make it to export, fruit will be left on the ground, as the capacity to freight the product is now significantly reduced," RFA chief executive Reid Mather said in a media release.
Mildura councillor and RFA chairman Glenn Milne said he had had numerous conversations with transport operators who had already removed freight from rail during line upgrades.
He blamed the Victorian Government for the harvest getting "off the tracks and on to the trucks".
"I've spoken to transport operators and there has been freight -- and a large percentage of freight -- taken off rail during this upgrade and it's gone to trucks," he said.
"Once that happens, those companies -- once they've organised to put things on trucks -- it's a really hard road to get that freight back if ever because some of them will enter contracts as they need their freight delivered on time.
"But it seems like the Victorian Government can't get their act together and make it happen."
Cr Milne said safety – among other frustrations -- was at the centre of the RFA's concerns.
"One of the major beliefs of the Rail Freight Alliance is you're better off getting trucks off of the roads, which is safer," he said.
"You've got one train to deal with and it's more efficient, better for the environment and there's less of a carbon footprint."
The project set out to upgrade Murray Basin lines from 19 tonnes per axle to 21 tonnes per axle and convert the Ouyen-Murrayville line from broad gauge to standard gauge with axle loadings of 19 tonnes, among other targets.
A Victorian Government spokesman attacked the RFA's claims and said rail freight improvements for the upcoming grain harvest was on their radar.
"This is just more scare-mongering from the Nationals-aligned Rail Freight Alliance, who constantly talk down the benefits the Murray Basin Rail Project has already delivered," he said.
"The combined capacity of the system is higher now than before the Murray Basin Rail Project, with suitable grain trains on the standard- gauge Mildura-Yelta line now carrying 15 per cent more freight.
He said the Victorian and Commonwealth governments were working together to progress next steps to deliver Victorian rail freight network improvements.
"We're continuing to deliver improvements to rail freight infrastructure to ensure this year's grain harvest can make its way to port quickly and efficiently," he said.
But Cr Milne said the State Government was "lucky" there was a drought, which was easing the burden on transport.
"The government is very lucky there's a drought because if there was a really good crop up this end of the world, we'd be in big trouble transporting the grain," he said.
"As you go further down our line past Ouyen, there are some reasonable crops there so there's pressure on those lines.
"The promises were fantastic – as most political promises are – but the reality is it is quite different."
Travel time from Merbein to Geelong had increased to 16 hours, 15 minutes, and to Appleton Dock in Melbourne to almost 17 and a half hours, according to the RFA.
"We're not seeing from the state (government) any degree of urgency and concern," Cr Milne said.
"With the cost of actually producing this year, farmers want to know their goods are going to get to market.
"There are already limits on the speeds and when trains can and can't travel on the rail.
"The ships don't just sit there and wait until they're filled up … If freight doesn't make it, it doesn't make it."
This article first appeared on www.sunraysiadaily.com.au
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