HEAVIER and more frequent trains are set to carry freight between Mildura and the Port of Melbourne − but the Victorian Government says they won’t be going at faster speeds than what has already been achieved.

Works along the rail line, part of the revised Murray Basin Rail Project, were expected to get under way in coming months.

Among the upgrades will be a siding extension at Merbein to allow 1200m long trains to stable away from the main line, so grain trains can run more often to Yelta ahead of an expected bumper season.

Further south, crossing loops will be extended to allow opposing 1200m long freight trains to pass each other, with a refuelling station added at Ouyen.

Minister for Ports and Freight Melissa Horne this week visited Mildura Fruit Company, where boxes of oranges were being packed ready for export.

Ms Horne said the project so far had lifted speeds along the line.

“Through our investment we’ve been able to lift speed restrictions – there were some sections of the track that were only about 10kmh to 25kmh, so by doing those re-sleepering and that re-ballasting, we’ve been able to lift it up to 80kmh, which is fantastic for regional producers,” she said.

But she said further speed improvements were not part of the government’s plans.

“We work so closely with industry, we’ve had a rail freight working group and the government is in the business of providing that infrastructure that industry says ‘this is what we need’,”she said.

“So being able to provide that infrastructure that then industry says ‘this is what allows to operate a profitable business’ is paramount.”

Increased services

Work at the Merbein siding, home to Seaway’s intermodal freight terminal, was expected to start in October and be finished by Christmas.

Seaway national advocacy and strategy delivery manager Ros Milverton said services from Mildura to the port would be able to increase from three to five per week.

“It gives us more flexibility by upgrading the sidings, because we can house wagons up here instead of leaving them down at the port,” Ms Milverton said.

“One of the beauties about the rail we have is we can vary from 600m train up to a 1.2km train − then in that flexibility model, you need to be able to leave your wagon somewhere.”

An average loaded 800m long intermodal freight train carries a massive $2.25 million worth of produce − equivalent of 55 semi-trailers removed from local roads, according to the government.

Ms Horne said moving product onto rail rather than road had many benefits, including reducing road wear and tear, as well as reducing carbon emissions.

“To be able to make sure we’ve got this awesome product that is grown here locally out to our export markets is so important,” she said.

“The most efficient way we can do that is putting containers of fruit, containers of table grapes, containers of grain, onto rail.”

Asked about the government’s interest in the Sunraysia Mallee Port Link, a proposal for an intermodal freight hub at Ouyen, Ms Horne was noncommittal.

She suggested more detail was needed, despite the recent completion of a business case.

“I have met with that group and it’s really interesting to see new opportunities emerging,” she said.

“The thing for that group is we need to understand what the product would be they would shift and who the customer is they would service.

“What we’re focussing on really though is right here and now up in Mildura − we’ve got a really successful operator, we’ve got port capacity that can continue to grow, so by investing in the rail line up here, we can also increase the product export.

“What we are doing down in Ouyen is investing in that refuelling station, which builds that capacity on the line.”

− MICHAEL DIFABRIZIO