Adjournment – Maroona-Portland rail upgrade

My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Transport, and the action I seek is the upgrade of the freight line between Maroona and Portland to bring it in line with the rest of the Murray Basin rail network. Minister, as you would be aware the Murray Basin plan upgrades the freight network through northern Victoria to standard gauge, which will provide direct links to freight markets, including the port of Portland. This is a fantastic and much-needed project. Unfortunately the last leg into the port of Portland has been left off the upgrade list, despite being identified in the Murray Basin plan business case as needing to be upgraded.

The Premier also flew into Portland to spruik the benefits of the Murray Basin plan that would be brought to the port of Portland. But there has been silence ever since. The line from Portland to Maroona is currently rated to 19 tonnes axle loading — this is the safe level that a freight wagon can be loaded for an 80-kilometre-per-hour transit across the line.

The Murray Basin project will upgrade most of the network to a minimum 21-tonne axle load (TAL). This obviously leaves the port of Portland at a competitive disadvantage compared to ports in Melbourne and Geelong. Rail users will naturally utilise the 21-TAL loading to increase wagon loading and take advantage of the lower cost structure and higher transport efficiency. The port of Portland provides great efficiencies for grain producers with its deep water port meaning ships can be filled to greater capacities, eliminating the need for stops at other ports to top off the load. If rail wagons heading to the port of Portland could be loaded to the same axle capacity as those heading to the port of Geelong, there would be a reduction in supply chain and transport costs, and benefits to all exporters across western Victoria.

The Glenelg shire estimates the project would remove 68 000 truck trips each year. It also estimates a train transporting 2000 tonnes of grain 100 kilometres to port replaces 3.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, 12.5 trucks and 1375 litres of fuel. However, in my mind the reason to fund this $28 million project is simple: it makes sense. Why would you isolate one port from the rest of the network? Why would you create a competitive disadvantage for regional Victoria? Why would you only do three-quarters of any job? Upgrading the port of Portland to 23 TAL is the most sensible and cost-effective solution to remedy the competitive disadvantage the port of Portland is in. Minister, for the benefit of all Victorian producers and particularly those in western Victoria, upgrade the Portland–Maroona line to 23 TAL.