WORK is expected to start soon on a long-delayed $1.7 million upgrade to Warrnambool's internodal freight terminal to increase capacity for more rail transport.
It will be followed next year by a new $10m passing loop near Colac which will enable longer freight trains and more passenger rail services to run betweeen Warrnambool and Melbourne.
State Transport Minister Terry Mulder yesterday also confirmed a new rail freight incentive scheme to start July 1 as part of support to get more vehicles off roads onto railways.
The Department of Transport is likely to recommend a successful tenderer for the terminal project to Transport Minister Terry Mulder later this month with work to start early July and run four months.
Tenders for the passing loop are likely to be called by December with construction to be completed by Christmas next year.
Mr Mulder and South West Coast MP Denis Napthine said the state government would contribute up to $1.05m for the terminal in addition to $600,000 from the federal government first promised in 2008 when Labor was in opposition.
Warrnambool City Council as project manager and Westvic Container Handling have also committed financial support.
Mr Mulder also
Freight trains are limited in length to less than 400 metres due to the short passing loop at Camperdown and limited siding facilities at Westvic's internodal terminal.
"This makes operational costs relatively high per container," Mr Mulder said.
"Planning for the new passing loop is continuing.
"It will be at Warncoort between the Princes Highway turnoff at Birregurra and Birregurra railway station.
"The new loop will enable longer and heavier trains to operate on a 24-hour turnaround including container loading at Warrnambool and unloading at Appleton Dock."
Westvic founder Warrick Loft, who manages the facility now leased by Wettenhalls trucking company, said there was great potential for more south-west road freight to be sent by rail.
"The infrastructure is here to be used more," he said.
"If it remains economically viable to run with rail it has a good future."
However, he said extra costs for industry and the transport industry from the new carbon tax was creating uncertainty.
"No-one knows for sure what they are facing," he said.
Up to 16 freight wagons a day leave Warrnambool for Melbourne with an average volume of 1100 tonnes a day, 250 days a year.
When Mr Loft started the terminal in 1989 it loaded only five to six wagons a day.
The new incentive scheme comprises $5 million in state funding for each of the next two years with country intermodal terminal operators applying for payment per container transported.
"It recognises the social, environmental and economic benefits of transferring freight from road to rail," Mr Mulder said.
"While the road transport industry has a good safety record, the effect of just one truck and car crash can be very serious.
"Rail is a safer method of transport for both passengers and freight."