Dispute over Victorian port rail project update

Britnell points to slow progress on Somerton-based on-dock rail project

Dispute over Victorian port rail project update
Footage from the announcement


The Victorian government has announced the launch of the next step in Melbourne’s Port Rail Shuttle Network - to the chagrin of the state opposition.

The $16.2 million collective investment by Australian and Victorian governments in direct rail freight between the Port of Melbourne and Somerton is expected to improve supply chain efficiencies.

In a statement, a new track connecting the main rail line with the Somerton-based railway sleeper manufacturer Austrak freight hub is expected to reduce truck trips on suburban Melbourne roads by as much as 20,000 annually.

"The new track will deliver a direct rail route from the Somerton terminal to the docks, via the Port of Melbourne’s $125 million on-dock rail project," Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack says.

"This builds on our announcement in August of a further joint investment for a $28 million link between the main rail line and Dandenong South-based Salta Properties.

More on the Dandenong intermodal terminal, here

"It is another example of our government’s $110 billion nationwide infrastructure plan investing in freight rail to support our economic recovery from the pandemic."

Victorian ports and freight minister Melissa Horne says the link improves efficiency for major freight customers at the Somerton terminal and also boosts conditions for motorists.

"This is a massive win for both motorists and industry, as we continue to reduce congestion and make it easier and cheaper for businesses to use rail freight," Horne says.

"Putting containers on rail will reduce truck movements around the port gate and cut the cost of the last mile, which disproportionately impacts rail freight customers.

"We are backing this vital freight connection to unlock private sector investment and economic growth into the long-term."

This doesn’t pass muster with shadow ports and freight minister Roma Britnell, who accuses the announcement as being "in fact nothing new and had been previously announced in 2018".

"In August 2018, then Minister Luke Donnellan announced $16.2 million had been awarded to Austrack at Somerton and a further $9.5 million to SCT in Altona to connect their facilities to the rail network," a statement from Britnell’s office reads. 

"Labor has had six years to sort Port Rail Shuttle out, but to date, less than 20 per cent of work has been completed.

"Labor is all talk when it comes to rail freight and now the well of ideas is running so dry they have to recycle something from two years ago.

"Melissa Horne has again proven she is not across her brief – she couldn’t answer basic questions about why a key project in her portfolio is seemingly stalled – in the meantime trucks thunder through suburban streets, in her own electorate taking goods to and from the port.

"If Labor were really committed to using more trains to move freight to and from the port, we wouldn’t still be talking about starting work on the Port Rail Shuttle six years after it was first funded."

On the specifics of the Austrak project, a new dual-gauge track will be accompanied by existing tracks to be realigned, with further upgrades to rail infrastructure.

The investment will also enable sleeper replacement, installation of refrigerated container points across existing infrastructure and realignment of the existing northern rail access entrance.

The improved rail connection will "unlock private sector co-investment", with Austrak set to upgrade its terminal facilities.

Austrak has also committed to handling tens of thousands of twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) shipping containers per annum within five years.

The project is expected to be completed and operational by mid-2022.

The Australian government has committed $10.6 million to the project and the Victorian Government is investing $5.6 million.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has committed $38 million to the $58 million overall Port Rail Shuttle Network in partnership with the state government.


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