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A plan to build Australia's biggest port at Hastings, south-east of Melbourne, relies on also building the state's biggest public transport project, the Melbourne Metro rail tunnel, putting the Napthine government at odds with its federal allies.
The federal Coalition has ruled out funding passenger rail projects, including Melbourne Metro, but on Wednesday committed $300 million towards building an inland freight rail line between Melbourne and Brisbane.
The Rudd government on Tuesday committed the same amount to early work on the line, which would ultimately cost $5 billion to build.
Nationals leader and shadow transport minister Warren Truss said the inland rail line ''has the potential to take up to a million semi-trailers a year off the road by transferring freight that otherwise would have moved by road onto the rail network''.
The 1731-kilometre line would enable freight trains to skip Sydney's congested rail network and reduce the Melbourne-Brisbane journey by seven hours. It would require building new lines in NSW and Queensland but in Victoria would use the existing Melbourne-Albury line to provide a freight link in and out of the Port of Melbourne, Australia's biggest.
However, the Napthine government has announced plans to scale down activity at the Port of Melbourne in the long-term and expand Hastings into Australia's largest port. A new freight rail track to Hastings would be built alongside the Dandenong line and down the median of the Western Port Highway. This line ''is contingent on completion of the Melbourne Metro project'', the government's freight plan states.
A government spokeswoman said Melbourne Metro was vital for public transport and freight. ''Whilst it is targeted at increasing the capacity of the public transport system for passengers, the Melbourne Metro project also creates benefits for freight by attracting commuter demand away from the road network, freeing it up for more efficient freight movement.''
The Melbourne Metro is a planned nine-kilometre rail tunnel through Melbourne's city centre, from South Kensington to South Yarra, with five new stations, which would cost an estimated $9 billion to $11 billion to build.
Premier Denis Napthine said this month: ''We are determined to build that rail capacity project [Melbourne Metro] … it is essential for rail freight, for regional rail services and for metro rail services.''
Rail expert Bill Russell warned that if the Port of Hastings was expanded without a rail link, Melbourne's eastern suburbs would be overrun by trucks.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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