I, LIKE many in the rail freight sector, was caught by surprise by V/Line’s move to cease running trains any time the temperature exceeds 33C.
This decision came without notice, without consultation and with no regard to the broader economic impact.
While I agree that safety is paramount, a unilateral declaration of this magnitude is unworkable and unmanageable at the peak of what is Victoria’s best harvest this decade.
These changes are a poor response from a government agency that appears to be making decisions without any understanding of the Victorian transport system and highlight the under-investment and neglect of Victoria’s rail system by successive governments.
This stems from an overcomplicated system: we have two ministers (Jacinta Allan and Luke Donnellan), and five government agencies managing the network (Department of Treasury and Finance, Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources, VicTrack, V/Line and Public Transport Victoria), and four separate access providers (VicTrack, V/Line, Metro Trains and Australian Rail Track Corporation). There is no unified management or regional representation in relation to marketing rail freight.
So what’s the solution? It’s simple. Victoria needs a dedicated rail freight minister.
Victoria also needs a rail freight facilitation authority, a statutory authority reporting directly to the dedicated minister, which works to effect a whole-of-government approach to rail freight across the state.
The State Government must also adopt a Victorian transport plan, which is required by law under the Transport Integration Act, and which would guide policy and investment.
The Government often talks about using the best of our regions, but it’s time to put that into action. This debacle crystallises all that’s wrong with how it handles the rail freight sector.
The Government has a social and economic responsibility to the Victorian community to provide a workable solution. One that recognises rail freight is the only real option for moving large stock in peak periods.
• Reid Mather is executive officer of the Rail Freight Alliance
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