THE slimmed down Murray Basin Rail Project could be a disaster for the region, it has been claimed.
Business and logistics consultant, Michael O’Callaghan says he has been left dumfounded by the Victorian Government’s revised business case that pulls the pin on three of the project’s five stages.
He says the new plan has raised a raft of concerns for rail freight system users and cast doubt on future projects that depend on the plan going ahead.
Mr O’Callaghan said more consideration was needed by both local and state governments on the project that had seen the first two stages started but not completed.
With this year’s Victorian grain harvest estimated to be more than 7.2 million tonne, the lack of a capable rail grain transport system came sharply into focus, he said.
“It has been estimated by a leading grain accumulator, that to move the export portion of the harvest alone will require 107,000 truck trips,” he said.
“Using an average travel distance across the Victorian grain growing regions of, say 250km from paddock to port, that equates to a staggering 54 million truck kilometres!”
“And that’s equivalent to 1147 laps of earth just to get this year’s export grain to the port. That doesn’t seem very smart.”
Mr O’Callaghan claimed the revised business case would not see grain moved by rail in the future within Mildura council boundaries.
He said trains on the Yelta to Maryborough line would no longer take the most direct route to the Geelong and Melbourne ports.
And retaining a mixture of broad and standard gauge rail lines across the Murray basin would make all grain trains inefficient and more expensive,
With the MBRP only partially complete, the Victorian Government last year opened the full length of the Calder and Henty Highways to A-double road trains.
“Farmers in the MRCC local government area and the Calder and Henty Highway corridors are being effectively discouraged from using rail to freight huge volumes of grain,” he said.
“Road-transport operators are already getting part of their fleet ready to carry more grain per movement by using A-doubles on approved routes.
Currently 80 per cent of the intermodal freight in north-west Victoria is freighted to port on road requiring up to 17 million truck kilometres annually.
“This will not change under the revised MBRP plan, but instead get worse,” Mr O’Callaghan predicted.
The revised MBRP plan states: “There are significant prospects in the horticulture industries in the Murray Basin Rail with an increase in exports by 15 per cent to 20 per cent in the next two to three years.”
The Ouyen Intermodal project was looking to put at least half to two thirds of that freight onto rail.
However, under the revised MBRP, the $34 million Ouyen Intermodal and hay export facility project, which promises an annual $11.3 million economic injection and 75 to 90 ongoing jobs, may come to a grinding halt with the trains no longer viable.
“Trucks and rail form a very important role in the export logistics task, but the mentioned truck kilometres are disproportionately high and no doubt as a modern society, Victorians should be alarmed that the revised Murray Basin Rail Plan fails to address this situation,” Mr O’Callaghan added.
“The consequences of this revised business case for the completion for the Murray Basin Rail Plan as it has been outlined above will have a long lasting and detrimental effect on rail transport for a large portion of north-west Victoria, which then affects jobs and our economic prosperity,” he said.
“We urge all Victorians to ask the Victorian Government to implement the Murray Basin Rail Project in full, as originally planned, and as quickly as possible.”