Councils make case for Mildura rail upgrade


90,000 extra trucks will clog city roads if the Mildura to Melbourne rail line is not upgraded to standardise the track

More than 90,000 extra heavy vehicles will clog city roads if the crumbling Mildura to Melbourne rail line is not upgraded to standardise the track, according to a new report.

The Sunraysia Mallee Economic Development Board is warning of dire road safety, environmental and economic consequences that could result from the lack of a standardised rail line between Melbourne and Mildura.

The Victorian Government is spending $73 million to upgrade the line, but the Mildura Derailed report calls for the line to be standardised.

Rail transport for the freight that travels on the line would produce up to 70 percent less greenhouse emissions than heavy vehicle transport, according to the report, which it also claims accidents resulting from increased traffic could cost in excess of $2 million annually.

The report also predicts an annual cost of up to $100 million to Victoria’s economy should there be no effective and efficient rail freight service to Mildura.

In recent years, trains on many sections of the Melbourne-Mildura rail line have travelled at restricted speeds (as low as 20km/hr), while the closure of a major grain transport line in the Mallee near Ouyen in October last year has already added thousands of truck movements to Victorian roads according to the development board.

The Mildura region is a major industrial and agricultural area that provides for major domestic and export markets. The region produces 95 percent of Australia’s dried vine fruit, 69 percent of table grapes, 55 percent of almonds, a third of all olives, 21 percent of Australia’s citrus and 23 percent of its wine grape crush.

Mineral sands mining is also growing rapidly in the area and the region has more than a million hectares dedicated to grain growing, producing more than 200,000 metric tones of grain annually.

Chair of the Alliance of Regional Councils for Rail Freight Development, Vernon Knight, says the report proves the rail line’s future as an issue of significance for metropolitan Melbourne and the whole of Victoria.

"With more than 91,000 extra heavy vehicles travelling to ports annually, the impact will be right outside the front doors of Melbournians," Knight says.

"While the Victorian Government has announced a very welcome upgrade that will help keep some freight on rail, going the extra mile and committing to standardisation would reap huge benefits for Victoria."

Chairman of the development board, John Irwin, says the report shows standardisation is an economically responsible step that will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse emissions.

"At a time when Australia is debating the setting of a national target to cut greenhouse emissions, surely it is time for the redevelopment of this important freight rail line to begin at standard gauge."

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