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Analysis of Victorian grain freight movements shows just over 500,000 tonnes of grain has gone by rail since November 1, last year.
A large percentage of broad and standard gauge locomotives are currently out of service, as they are being repaired or stored, due to breakdowns, compounding the problem.
Most locomotives are 30 to 65 years old.
The rail enthusiast, who analysed freight movements for Stock & Land, said that at current haulage rates, up to three million tonnes of grain were likely to be moved by rail, this year.
"That's not a great result, given that nine million tonnes has been harvested," the enthusiast said.
"So unless more trains run, we are probably looking at 30pc by rail and the rest by road, or kept on-farm or at various other storage sites."
In previous years, the split has been up to 50 to 60 per cent by rail, with the rest by road.
A GrainCorp spokesperson said in an average year, the split between road and rail was 50-50.
"We'd obviously like to see rail transport prioritised, where it's the cheapest freight option to port for growers," the spokesperson said.
"This would increase the split to 70pc of tonnes hauled from GrainCorp sites by rail."
Cargill's Corporate Affairs Director Peter McBride said it was likely the split, this year, would be 70pc rail and 30pc road.
It also comes when major resleepering work is occurring on the Manangatang and Sea Lake lines, knocking them out of commission.
"World of pain"Rail Freight Alliance chief executive Reid Mather said the Department of Transport had asked him if he knew what quantities of grain, oilseed and pulses were going on rail.
"If the DoT doesn't know, we are in a world of pain," Mr Mather said.
"What I do know is that if the Victorian government plans to have all freight go by road, and all passengers by rail, they should probably say so.
"We are going to have an increased freight task, so why on earth don't they start to plan for that now."
Mr Mather said because the state government had not finished the Murray Basin Rail Project, it was taking three hours longer to bring freight from the region to Melbourne.
He said recent Federal government funding would only repair, or replace, poor workmanship on the Maryborough to Ararat line.
Late last year, the federal government committed $200.2 million to remediate parts of the MBRP, half-finished after it ran out of money.
The funding also includes $5 million for a plan for the freight network's full standardisation, a figure the commonwealth expects the state government to match.
In October the Victorian government announced a further $48.8m funding for the project.
The project's scope includes re-railing 88km on the Ararat to Maryborough line, signalling works at Ararat Junction and Maryborough Yard, and work to improve passing loops, electronic train ordering, resleepering, and siding upgrades.
In announcing the MBRP, the state government said it would take 20,000-grain trucks off the road.
Mr Mather said the recent federal funding would only repair, or replace, poor workmanship on the Maryborough to Ararat line.
"They are going to invest a quarter of a billion dollars, to take half an hour off the trip, because you are going to re-rail what you have already done," Mr Mather said.
"Once you put something on a truck, it will stay on a truck, until you get to its destination."
Mr Mather repeated the RFA's call for a statewide freight plan.
"Trucks will be going directly to port, with bulk commodities, which could have arguably gone on rail."
No scienceRail Futures Institute president John Hearsch said it would be another six months before the full picture would emerge as to what proportion of the crop went on rail, and what went on road.
"I don't believe the authorities had a plan for the grain harvest, it was a case of just let it run and hope that it works out," Mr Hearsch said.
"I guess they just rely on what people tell them, and what sort of advocacy they get.
"I don't think there is any science to it."
He said, "a fair amount" of this year's harvest appeared to have gone into storage, either with grain accumulators or on-farm, and wouldn't be exported until later in the year.
"Rail nowadays is not as good, as it once was, to deal with massive harvest surges - but that's mainly been compensated for by the amount of storage, particularly bunker storage, upcountry.
"One would hope a large proportion of that upcountry storage, which is going to be reserved for export, will end up on rail."
He said the rail operators, such as PN, SSR and Qube, were busy and believed some would be close to their limit.
This article first appeared on www.stockandland.com.au
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