Freight corridor through Ballarat could cut emissions, make country roads safer, say rail advocates

Driving alongside a rural street in north-west Victoria, Brett Hosking can not assist however discover the 10cm drop on the fringe of the bitumen. 

The grain farmer from Quambatook stated individuals in rural communities with large vehicles “rattling up their most important avenue” had been totally conscious of what a “lack of funding in rail” had achieved to their roads.

“We know each time we take a 2,000-tonne prepare off the rails, we’re changing it with roughly 20 vehicles — and that is huge vehicles, B-doubles,” he stated.

Mr Hosking questioned whether or not metropolis dwellers had made the identical reference to “the standstills they’re seeing on the Tullamarine or the Western Freeway” as they tried to get to work.

“I’m not fairly certain whether or not they realise that simply but, however we’re definitely seeing the implications through our street community,” he stated.

Westgate Freeway
Industry figures say the failure to finish the unique Murray Basin Rail Project has compelled handlers to place extra vehicles on the roads.(AAP: Julian Smith)

A prolonged detour

When the Victorian authorities introduced it might fund the $416-million Murray Basin Rail Project in 2015, the plan was to standardise the entire freight community throughout north-west Victoria.

But after the undertaking ran out of money in 2019, it was rescoped and a few elements — corresponding to a $130 million complementary undertaking to open up a dual-gauge freight corridor through Ballarat — had been scrapped.

It meant standard-gauge freight trains heading from the north-west to Melbourne or Geelong should proceed taking a 128-kilometre detour from Maryborough through Ararat.

“That’s including quite a lot of price [and] including quite a lot of time into the transit,” stated John Hearsch, president of unbiased suppose tank Rail Futures Institute.

Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan, Premier Daniel Andrew and Lance Brown, from GrainCorp, beside the rail freight line.
Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan, Premier Daniel Andrews, and Lance Brown from GrainCorp.(ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Deb O’Callaghan)

Mr Hosking, president of nationwide peak physique GrainGrowers, says the Ballarat corridor was “completely integral” to the undertaking, which had as a substitute created “a extra disconnected and convoluted community than we started with”.

Bulk handler GrainCorp stated the undertaking’s delays, and Victoria having two separate rail gauges, affected the continued viability of shifting grain by rail within the state.

GrainCorp’s company affairs supervisor Jess Simons stated elevated rail prices, lowered rail reliability, lowered monitor capability, and time-sensitive pricing had “resulted in street freight being the popular methodology of grain transport to port”.

“This, in flip, generates points together with increased emissions of carbon and different pollution and a rise in congestion, accidents, and street put on and tear,” she stated.

rail line crossing a road and leading into a station building
Rail advocates say freight can be extra environment friendly if the Victorian authorities invested in a normal gauge corridor through Ballarat.(ABC Ballarat: Christopher Testa)

Why Ballarat is important

The Victorian authorities’s resolution to scrap the deliberate twin gauge corridor through Ballarat was based mostly on a evaluation of the undertaking’s business case.

The evaluation recommended the work would price an excessive amount of, can be unlikely to ship anticipated advantages to the freight trade, and could constrain passenger rail companies through Ballarat.

But Mr Hearsch, a former chief working officer of V/Line, stated: “We’ve had a very good have a look at that, and we do not consider that is proper”.

“There’s no basic motive why we won’t be running customary gauge freight trains through Ballarat when there is a 40-minute passenger prepare frequency in the course of the day,” he stated.

Mr Hearsch stated doing so would require multi-million-dollar infrastructure works in Ballarat and “pretty exact timetabling and management of prepare actions”.

a man in a blue suit jacket and white shirt standing in front of a city street
Ben Lever, from the Public Transport Users Association’s Ballarat department, believes rail freight deserves extra consideration.(ABC Ballarat: Christopher Testa)

Ben Lever, the convener of the Ballarat department of the Public Transport Users Association, desires the frequency of town’s passenger trains to extend to half-hour.

But he stated even that ought to not cease town from getting used as a freight rail corridor.

railway lines run beneath a bluestone bridge
The previous Armstrong Street bridge in Ballarat Central runs over town’s railway line.(ABC Ballarat: Christopher Testa)

“We actually wish to maintain the federal government accountable and make certain they arrive again with a very robust strategic imaginative and prescient for what this freight community can appear to be and fund it so it will probably occur.”

So is it on monitor?

The Victorian authorities stated the enhancements to the Murray Basin community that had been going forward would end mid-year and take away an estimated 20,000 truck journeys from the street.

That work included new crossing loops and sidings and monitor upgrades on the Maryborough-to-Ararat line, which trains should use as a substitute of travelling through Ballarat.

Mr Hearsch stated, whereas it might create some marginal enchancment, it didn’t essentially cope with the true targets the undertaking initially had.

Cracked road edge with asphalt breaking into gravel road shoulder
Rail advocates say lowering the haulage sector’s reliance on vehicles will minimise put on and tear on roads.(ABC News: Jeremy Story Carter)

Mr Hosking stated limits on how shortly grain could be despatched to port within the community’s present state meant the state was not reaping the total advantages of document grain prices.

“It could be serving to our colleges, our footy golf equipment, our church buildings, all of that,” he stated.

GrainCorp additionally stated the rail community wanted “a dedication to upkeep that extends past seasonal funding grants”.

A legacy of poor rail upkeep broken the Murray Basin undertaking earlier than it even started. The price range blowout partly attributed to the state of the community being worse than assumed when the undertaking was initially drawn up.

Mr Hearsch stated the end result had been “unacceptable”.

“If you are driving on regional roads and also you’re scuffling with the vehicles or the potholes these vehicles trigger, pondering about freight rail is one technique to remedy these issues,” he stated.

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