The federal government is embarking on an ambitious nation-building project – an inland freight rail route from Brisbane to Melbourne. The idea is to link the inland regions with ports of Brisbane and Melbourne to get freight off our congested roads and improve supply chains.
Fundamentally, there are two competing players interested in building the line – Australian Rail Track Corporation, which has an inland freight rail proposal using an existing track in Victoria and southern NSW, and a consortium called Nation Trunk Rail, which has a proposal taking the Victorian and southern NSW section of the track through Shepparton, Tocumwal and Narrandera. NTR say its solution is ‘shorter, flatter and faster’ but there is another reason the NTR solution should be seriously considered by the federal government.
While the ARTC claims its southern section is cheaper due to using an existing alignment, a Deloitte report comparing the two projects identifies 220,000 tonnes of freight emanating from an Albury-Wagga alignment, against 1.7 million tonnes from the Shepparton Narrandera option. The reason for this is obvious – the MIA and Victoria’s Goulburn Murray Irrigation District are two major irrigation regions in Australia.
There is cotton, rice, almonds, dairy and fruit that needs to find its way to the Port of Melbourne. If an efficient train option was available much of this would be taken off the road, and the costs to the producers of getting this to port would be reduced.
The concern is the federal government will punt for the cheapest, short-sighted option, involving the proposal using existing track (Albury-Wagga). The reason for having freight rail in the first place was to make our industries more profitable. Agricultural businesses will only get the value of a more efficient freight rail system if the line passes through the region their commodities come from.
While much of our infrastructure is there to give basic services to people, key projects such as inland freight rail can make our industry more competitive globally. Getting produce to the port for export 25 per cent cheaper can be the difference between it being viable to sell agricultural commodities in China or not. When growers ramp up production and the supply chain gets involve, a lot of jobs are created.
We need to remember why we are building this industry in the first place, to service and grow our industry, not just to tick a box.