GRAIN exports through the Port of Portland are set to explode after the state government announced plans to spend $220 million modernising western Victoria’s rail network.
The state will spend millions on upgrading rail lines from old broad gauge to standard gauge and building the transformational Mildura rail standardisation link.
The move will bolster rail links between Portland and Mildura.
Port of Portland chief executive Jim Cooper told The Standard the investment would help the south-west tap into the vast Wimmera and Mallee grain belt.
“The investment by the state government in rail standardisation will pay off dividends for the next 30 to 40 years,” Mr Cooper said.
Freight corporations have been extremely reluctant to spend their own money on modernising the lines, the port boss said, adding that more grain would hopefully flow south rather than east to Geelong or to the Port of Melbourne.
In a statement, Premier Denis Napthine said the investment would provide an economic boom for Portland.
“The Coalition will deliver this project and provide the much needed rail connection between the Port of Portland and the Mildura-Mallee region. This will provide the opportunity for massive boost in the exports of grain, mineral sands and potentially other products through the Port of Portland,” Dr Napthine said.
“The Port of Portland will be connected by rail to the Mallee region and therefore provide another international gateway alternative to customers. This increased competition will make Victoria’s bulk commodities more internationally competitive.”
The port is already expecting to break export records again this year for shipments of timber and minerals through the port.
Mr Cooper told The Standard the port was already on track to break last year’s record of 5.4 million tonnes. “We’re forecasting 6 million tonnes (at the end of the financial year).
Mr Cooper said Portland’s “under-utilised” rail yard was ready to recieve up to 1 million tonnes of grain.
“It’s all ready and there’s enough room for more trains ... in the late 1990s and early 2000s there were a few years where we did have a 1 million tonnes of grain come through.
“The next thing we’re hoping to get in on is the minerals,” he said.
The opposition yesterday dismissed the plan as a way to shore up support for embattled Mildura MP Peter Crisp, who is fighting gun charges.