Federal Member for Wannon Dan Tehan has committed $2.2 million to explore an upgrade to the crucial freight rail line between Portland and Maroona.
The line runs down from Maroona - 20km south of Ararat - through Hamilton to Portland, and is a key conduit for transporting agricultural and mining resources from northern Victoria to the port at Portland.
It received a $15 million state government-funded upgrade in 2008, but more recent upgrades to Murray Basin freight rail lines in the state's north-east have seen freight companies avoid the Portland line.
State Member for South West Coast Roma Britnell has raised the issue several times in parliament, most recently on March 9, saying the out-of-date infrastructure put Portland at a competitive disadvantage.
"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.
She said the Murray Basin lines all had 21 tonne capacity, as do the lines to Melbourne and Geelong, so freight companies were using those ports instead of Portland because they could put more in each wagon.
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The business case announced by Mr Tehan will investigate the cost of upgrading the Portland line to 23 tonne axle load.
"The business case will determine the full extent of the level of upgrade needed including scope, benefits and beneficiaries, and it will be completed in eighteen weeks" Mr Tehan said.
Ms Britnell said an upgrade was well overdue and the biggest losers from Portland's competitive disadvantage were farmers, who ended up paying more to transport their grain.
"If there are three ports - Melbourne, Geelong and Portland - working competitively that keeps pushing down prices and keeps us competitive internationally," she said.
"The state government said five years ago that Portland needed to be part of the mix when it came to freight infrastructure, but it seems to me they have no intention of doing anything about it."
The Rail Freight Alliance welcomed the announcement, saying the line had been "overlooked for too long".
"The Alliance has long advocated for this line to be upgraded and today we are cautiously optimistic that finally this line will be brought up to standard", RFA Chair Glenn Milne said.
The Green Triangle Freight Action Plan committee also welcomed the news. Committee chair Karen Stephens said the line upgrade was of huge "strategic importance" for Portland and would bring economic gains for the region.
"The business case is the first step in the upgrade process and compliments the work done by the Port of Portland, who provided a preliminary economic case for the upgrade. The business case will capture the critical evidence which will support further funding for the line," she said.
"Overall, this commitment is a game changer for the Green Triangle region."
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