Freight Victoria has launched its first new service since taking over VLine Freight, a dedicated timber train that will run between the La Trobe Valley and Geelong.
The company's owner, RailAmerica Inc, has sold its 11 per cent shareholding in the Great Southern Railway to pay for the new service and fund the further development of its freight business. The price was not disclosed.
GSR, based in Adelaide, is the owner/operator of the trans-continental passenger trains the India Pacific, the Overland and the Ghan.
The new timber train service will consist of 30 wagons that will operate daily between Morwell and the Port of Geelong carrying pine logs for Hancock Victoria Plantations Pty Ltd's softwood log and woodchip export operations. Hancock bought the Victorian Plantations Commission for $544 million in late 1998.
Rail Pine Pty Ltd, a new joint venture between Freight Victoria and Australian Marshalling Services, is expected to carry up to 300,000 tonnes of logs a year in Victoria and New South Wales, shifting the equivalent of 6000 log truck journeys from state main roads to rail. AMS is a specialist pine log handler.
Freight Victoria's chief executive, Mr Marinus van Onselen, said the company also hoped eventually to reopen the Sale to Bairnsdale rail line to cater for timber traffic from East Gippsland.
A feasibility study on reopening the line is now under way. Mr van Onselen said he hoped to start trial loadings in the next few months.
"A bridge over the Avon River needs strengthening, and to get a rail line back to work requires much effort," he said. "I am satisfied it is capable of being put back into service."
A reopening of the line would also take hundreds of thousands of logs off the roads, he said.
Mr van Onselen said log traffic was a new industry sector that would grow as the export market from south-east Australia continued to expand.
The new contract is a breakthrough for Freight Victoria, which has been working to expand its core market since buying VLine Freight from the State Government for $163 million in May.
The company is spending $350,000 to convert 50 surplus general-purpose wagons for heavy-duty log transportation, with work split between Notley Engineering in Geelong and A.Goninan in Bendigo.
A further $150,000 will be spent with AMS to develop a terminal at Morwell.
Mr van Onselen said log trucks that previously travelled from Gippsland through Melbourne to Geelong would now deliver instead to the Morwell rail head.
In Geelong, the logs will be handled by AMS at Corio Quay South.
Rail Pine is also a vehicle for another Freight Victoria venture - the start next week of an intrastate haulage entirely within New South Wales.
Two Freight Victoria locomotives and 23 wagons will operate three return trips weekly between Hume, near Queanbeyan, and Wallerawang, near Bathurst, to Port Kembla on the coast, carrying plantation softwood for Radiata Exports Pty Ltd.
The contract, for 170,000 tonnes a year, is Freight Victoria's first venture into the NSW market. Use of the state's rail network was negotiated through the Rail Access Corporation.
With the exit of RailAmerica, Great Southern Railroad is now fully owned by the British company Serco.
Mr van Onselen, who is also a director of RailAmerica Australia Pty Ltd, said the GSR holding originally represented "an appropriate stake in the ground" in Australia.
"Passengers are not RailAmerica's prime business, and with our company's subsequent success in buying VLine Freight, we could see trans-national passenger operations have very little synergy with a regional freight railroad company," he said.
Freight Victoria holds a 45-year lease on 4000 kilometres of track, owns 107 locomotives and 2600 freight wagons, and employs 580 people.
(Pasted from the Age Newspaper 18/10/99)
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