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While the rail corridor between Heywood and Mount Gambier is unused and overgrown with weeds, plans are underway to reinstate the rail line to link it into the national network.
The Kimberly-Clark Australia tissue mill near Millicent — one of the nation's largest producers of toilet paper — has been identified as a potential user of rail freight.
Regional Development Australia (RDA) Limestone Coast has lodged a report with Infrastructure Australia after commissioning a CSIRO-authored report into the proposal.
The last freight train loaded with goods left the Mount Gambier railway station in 1995.
The plan, estimated to cost up to $150 million, includes the establishment of a freight depot on Mount Gambier's eastern outskirts.
Freight service 'missing link'RDA Limestone Coast board member Scott Whicker said it "seemed crazy" the second largest city in South Australia was not connected with the national rail network.
"I'm sure if we had a facility beyond road freight then people would use it. A rail system is an enabler," Mr Whicker said.
He said Mount Gambier had a large a road transport sector and a plane that came "occasionally".
"This is the missing link in the whole transport system," he said.
Mr Whicker said the former freight service at Mount Gambier had a low line speed due to poor infrastructure.
"When the service shut down the line speed was only about 30-40kph in places. It wasn't competitive with road transport," he said.
He said a new service would need to travel at speeds of up to 80kph.
A disused rail signal near Mount Gambier in South Australia.(ABC South East: Sandra Morello)While a myriad of industries could potentially gain efficiencies through rail freight, Mr Whicker said the proposal would deliver far-reaching benefits.
"It would reduce greenhouse gases, improve road safety, and reduce road maintenance costs," he said.
"While the cost of the project was a seemingly large lump of money, that investment would be there for many years."
The line between Heywood and Mount Gambier would need to be re-gauged.
"All the easement and right-of-way exists all the way from Mount Gambier to Heywood," Mr Whicker said.
"The line would go from Mount Gambier to Heywood and then back towards Hamilton. Once converted to the standard gauge it will be connected with the national network.
"Freight could go to Adelaide, Melbourne and Western Australia, Darwin, and everywhere in the eastern states."
He said the resurrected service would also see goods flow from Port of Melbourne to the Limestone Coast.
While there was some momentum for the return of rail freight, Mr Whicker said the return of passenger rail service was a "long way off".
"The first step would be to have a line where you could go somewhere. But you do not know what will happen in the future," he said.
Submission lodged with national bodyRDA Limestone Coast chair Peter Gandolfi said a submission had been lodged with Infrastructure Australia and talks were underway with the South Australian and Victorian state governments for funding avenues.
"Hopefully we'll see it listed with Infrastructure Australia and possibly funded between three governments — being Victorian, South Australian, and federal," Mr Gandolfi said.
He said it was now a decision for Federal Cabinet whether the project should be funded.
"While the project is anticipated to cost between $120 and $150 million it's a 10 per cent return to our community," Mr Gandolfi said.
"We have written to ministers and they have responded showing some interest."
The report used modelling to map the region's freight task and supply chains for major commodities including timber, livestock, dairy products, and crops.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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