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The second stage of the $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project is set to help farmers and businesses who will benefit from the rail upgrades beginning this month.
The rail works will see lines such as Maryborough to Mildura closed until January 2018, temporarily creating further pressure on roads, but eventually deliver long-term gains in transport efficiency as early as next year.
The project aims to convert more than 1,000 kilometres of track to standard gauge with as many as 20,000 trucks to be taken off roads each year, cutting crashes and emissions.
"It is a generational change," Graincorp regional manager for Victorian country operations, Peter Johnston, said.
"We've known that obviously the line closures have been coming for quite some time. We have been very strategic in targeting those sites on that line."
Road deliveries to Victorian ports have exceeded rail this year
(ABC Rural: Carmen Brown)
Truck improvements meeting demandsMr Johnston said there was only about 20 per cent of grain left in silos along the line after one of the largest Victorian harvests ever seen, leaving the bulk of the grain-export to be transported by trucks out of the networks.
He said as many as 70 extra 'B-Double' trucks were operating daily.
"But essentially, as we've seen a bit of a slowing of the export demand, a lot of our consumers are drawing a little bit down off the on-farm storage at the moment.
"We've got more than adequate trucks to actually cater for our demand both domestic and exports."
Customers need support: transport managerAt a temporary site at Manangatang, 140-kilometres south-west of Mildura, "all is going well" according to Wakefield Transport's Managing Director Ken Wakefield.
The company runs the only containerised rail service between Sunraysia and the Port of Melbourne and set up the site so that it could still offer rail services for its customers.
"We need to show the customers some support in this process," Mr Wakefield said.
"Obviously it comes at a significant financial cost.
Mr Wakefield said the standardisation of the second stage of the project was just beginning.
When complete, the routes would add more than 200km extra track for the first six months, running through Ararat.
Mr Wakefield said the line-speed improvements would cut the 14-hour route time from Merbein to Melbourne.
"Once we get on to the Geelong line, it should take four hours out of that run time so that will allow us to work on trying to get to 24-hour cycle times," he said.
Grain storage in silos is to be transported by trucks in north-west Victoria until January.
(ABC Rural: Laurissa Smith)
Industry approach to consultationMr Johnston said consultation has been good between regional rail network V/Line and businesses to allow operations to continue.
"The good thing is it was a complete industry approach to the shutdown,'' Mr Johnston said.
"We're now in a situation where we've got very firm dates working on the basis that the whole line will be shut concurrently.''
Shutting the line in stages means it will be shut for a shorter time instead of starting at one end and working all the way along it.
"That was deemed as the most effective way to minimise any disruption to getting the grain out of silos from last season, or preparing for the current season."
The third and fourth stages of the project are due to be completed by August 2018 with a fifth stage to be confirmed for completion from Warrenheip to Maryborough.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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