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To solve congestion on the Wimmera's roads, the public and governments must look to the train tracks.
That's the view of the Rail Freight Alliance, a conglomerate of 27 Victorian councils including Horsham and Ararat Rural Cities, Hindmarsh, West Wimmera, Yarriambiack and Northern Grampians Shire Councils.
Chief executive Reid Mather is pushing for upgrades to the Rainbow to Dimboola line and Hopetoun to Murtoa line. The two lines can currently only handle carriages that have 19 tonnes of weight resting on each axle.
Mr Mather said upgrading them so they could support 21 tonnes per axle would make a big difference to grain growers and brokers, and reduce the amount of trucks on the road network.
"It means they can load more grain and deliver it to port for the same cost of running the train," he said.
"Simpy put, if you were to post a cash price at Dimboola today, the price they would post would factor in how much it costs to get the grain to port.
"If you can get the grain to port for a lesser charge because you can carry more on the train, that means that Dimboola site, or any site along that line, becomes exceptionally more competitive statewide. When you consider commodities like wheat are priced globally, any costs we can reduce in the supply chain we should be embracing."
Mr Mather said the Wimmera upgrades were taking on a renewed urgency as the state government's Murray Basin Rail Project continued towards completion.
The works involve converting hundreds of kilometres of freight railways between Mildura and Geelong so they can accommodate 21 tonne axle loading.
The Hopetoun line underwent enabling and repair works as part of stage one of the program in 2016.
"There is no reason upgrades to the Wimmera lines couldn't happen concurrently," Mr Mather said,
Mr Mather said the RFA had not estimated the cost of upgrading the Rainbow and Hopetoun lines, but it involved putting in more sleepers and ballasts.
GrainCorp is one company that offers road and rail solutions on both the Hopetoun and Rainbow lines. Program manager Nicholas May, said the organisation also supported upgrades to the two lines.
"The amount of grain coming through those tow sites at the last couple of years has been down because of the dry and challenging conditions," he said.
"What we see during those times is the grain being used more for domestic demand, and as a result we generally execute that by trucks instead of rail. We are hoping with better conditions we will be able to increase the use of rail to try and move it more efficiently through our network."
Ashley Fraser, President of the Victorian Farmers Federation's Grains Group, said growers on the Wimmera lines were telling them the state rail infrastructure and axle loading was inadequate.
"That's a concern we hear statewide," he said.
"What we want to see before anything else is a timeline for the end of the Murray Basin Rail Project from the state government. We still don't have answers on the impacts it will have on speed."
This article first appeared on www.mailtimes.com.au
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