The long-awaited direct inland rail freight line between Melbourne and Brisbane – aimed at getting farm produce to ports faster – is set to bypass our main farm producing areas.
In what seems like an episode of Yes Minister, the federal government is likely to reject a proposed rail line that takes in the food bowls of Shepparton and the MIA, taking an alternative cheaper option.
They will cut costs by trying to upgrade century-old rail tracks, opting for a route that instead goes via Albury and Wagga.
Griffith Mayor John Dal Broi said he joined other councils in lobbying hard to convince federal government to go with the route via the MIA, but was told it’s too expensive and not feasible at this time.
“There comes a time when you realise you’re not going to achieve anything and decide to stop banging your head against the wall,” he said.
The decision to have a rail freight line that misses key freight hubs is reminiscent of the famous Yes Minister episode of the hospital they built that couldn’t afford to take in patients.
East coast farmers have long been losing export revenue due to depleted rail networks, having to get bulk freight to ports using slower and most expensive road transport.
Successive federal governments have promised to build a direct rail line, but it remains as non-existent as Sydney’s second airport.
Paul Pearsall, manager director of Australian Grain Link, said, “the amount of money spent on plans and studies over the past decades is ridiculous. I wish they would just make a decision and get on with it.”
The private consortium National Trunk Rail (NTR) proposed building an $13 billion high speed standard gauge system from Melbourne to Brisbane, passing through Sheparton and Narrandera.
But it looks as if government-owned corporation will instead get the project. The are looking to upgrade existing tracks to build a route through Aubury and Wagga that they say will cost $10 billion.
“The NTR route would service the whole of western Riverina. For many, a rail line through Wagga would be no help. We may as well drive all the way to Melbourne,” Mr Pearsall said.
One study has estimated that the amount of freight that could be transported through to NTR route is seven times higher than the line passing through Wagga.
Martin Albrecht, Chairman of NTR, is scathing in his assessment of the both the process and likely outcome.
“Yo build a rail system for the 21st century, not for an election cycle. Upgrading depleting old rail networks never works, they tried it in Britain and it was a disaster. You need to build it from scratch. This is going to be the NBN all over again,” he said.
Mr Albrecht says it’s a “no brainer” to go with the faster, shorter and flatter route that seeks to modernise the rail network. He also doubts that the Wagga route will be cheaper in the long run, saying the government has not been transparent about the total cost.
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