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Rail freight lobby group chairman Geoff White has launched a stinging attack on the Bracks Government in the lead up to next year's State election - accusing it of having lost its vision for regional rail freight.
In a further development Cr White, who is also a Portland-based Glenelg Shire councillor, questioned whether rail freight operator Pacific National had any community obligation given its primary obligation was to make as much money for its shareholders as possible.
Cr White made the attacks in his chairman's report to the Alliance of Councils for Rail Freight Development annual general meeting in Melbourne on Friday.
Two rail lines seen as central to transporting products for export from the Port of Portland dominated his round-up of what was happening, or not happening in Victoria.
"There is still no announcement on the Mildura line, but it is believed that the government favours the return of passenger rail on an upgraded track only, not a standardised track - it is a standardised and upgraded track that both the alliance and the Mildura Rural City Council want," he said.
A standard gauge line linking Mildura with Portland is seen by the alliance and Glenelg Shire Council as essential for the transport of mineral sands from the Mallee.
Cr White also labelled the government's views on the re-opening of the Mount Gambier to Heywood line as a further loss of vision for the regional rail freight task.
"The government currently sees the re-opening of the Mount Gambier to Heywood line, to carry the enormous blue gum freight task to the Port of Portland, as risky," he said.
Cr White said that after considerable lobbying by the alliance in 2000 and early 2001, the government adopted a comprehensive plan for rail gauge standardisation.
"The plan was visonary and would have assured the future of the regional rail freight network, providing connectivity to the national freight network and greatly enhancing freight logistics," he said.
"It would have also helped reduce the number of trucks on our roads - something that continues to be of paramount importance to local government.
"Unfortunately, we now have a Minister for Transport (Peter Batchelor) who has lost this vision for regional rail freight.
"His favourite current saying is 'the market will sort it out'... well, the market consists of Pacific National and they are only interested in creating shareholder value."
Cr White said the longer nothing happened, the greater the danger of regional Victoria losing sizeable chunks of the rail network.
"Leaving it to private enterprise to sort out is likely to only have tragic consequences for regional Victorian rail freight," he said.
"The only bright light in the near future is the fact there is a State election in Victoria in November next year.
"These next months provide the alliance with a window of opportunity to get rail freight back on the political agenda - we need a government that has a vision for regional rail freight and the strength of conviction to actually implement the vision."
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