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An economic boom from record crops in Victoria has been "seriously undermined" by V/Line speed restrictions on hot days, Premier Daniel Andrews has been warned.
The state's Rail Freight Alliance, representing 22 Victorian shires, has written to Mr Andrews demanding a review of a decision to halt trains when the temperature hits 33 degrees, claiming it has left crops stranded and rail users "seriously disadvantaged".
"V/Line's actions have directly reduced the profitability of rural communities and has had a significant impact on the state's agricultural productivity," the April 13 letter says.
"For the first time in our state, we have freight loaded, ready for export, but unable to move."
In January last year, after two derailments near Ouyen, V/Line decided to stop train operations when temperatures reached 30 degrees. Last summer it lifted the limit to 33 degrees, with 64 days when heat speed restrictions were applied on the freight network.
The chairman of the Rail Freight Alliance and mayor of Mildura, Glenn Milne, said the level of frustration in his community about the performance of V/Line was mounting.
"The bottom line is we need a system that is built to our conditions and works for our conditions and is reliable. We shouldn't really be having this argument in this day and age. Our rail system should be up to scratch, it should have been well maintained and it should be able to handle our temperatures.
"We're almost at driverless cars, but we can't run a train at 80 kilometres an hour from Mildura to Melbourne with a load of grain on it. And they were probably doing it at that speed, or higher, in the late 1800s," he said.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan defended the policy, pointing out last year was the first since 2009 when there wasn't a derailment on the V/Line freight network.
"Not only do derailments put lives at risk, they can cause extended closures of the line, meaning produce can be left stranded for weeks," Ms Allan said.
"We're happy to continue meeting with the councils, farmers and the freight lobby to discuss this issue – but we're not going back to the bad old days under the Liberals and Nationals when derailments were just accepted."
Brett Hosking, vice president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, said the grains industry was "immensely frustrated" with V/Line's performance, warning some people were choosing to transport grain by truck instead of train because of the condition of the rail network.
This was more expensive, made roads deteriorate more quickly and put more heavy vehicles on country roads also used by family cars and school buses.
"Our rural communities, our farmers and our grains industry are missing out on opportunities that are out there because our rail service, our freight service, can't deliver in a timely and efficient manner," he said.
"What we've seen is a lack of maintenance and that's built up over a number of years now, to the extent that our rail lines are so heavily degraded that we're seeing permanent speed restrictions being put in place," he said.
Between July 2016 and March 2017 there were 584 grain freight train operations, shifting about 1.1 million tonnes of grain.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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