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The future of two interstate freight hubs designed to help take thousands of trucks off Melbourne’s roads remains unclear, with the state government accused of inaction and industry experts calling for a decision.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine King’s 90-day review of $120 billion of projects in the infrastructure investment program has again plunged into doubt funding for the terminals planned at Beveridge in Melbourne’s north and Truganina in the west.
An artist’s image of the proposed Beveridge intermodal freight terminal, which would handle goods moved on the Inland Rail.
Victorian Labor’s signature Suburban Rail Loop is the only state project funded in the program that is safe from the nationwide review, designed to scrap waste and determine priorities.
The terminals would connect to the troubled Inland Rail project carrying freight up the east coast, but have gone so far off track a final cost and timeline are unclear.
Only last month, King accepted the recommendations of a separate review by former energy adviser Kerry Schott to deliver the urgently needed Melbourne terminals concurrently, with Truganina to later become the dominant venture. King said Inland Rail remained an important project the federal government aimed to complete.
Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Victorian Transport Association, said he understood the need for another review and believed progressing two terminals at once was unnecessary.
“They’ve got no money,” he said. “You don’t climb Mount Everest in one step. You need to go through it in stage by stage.”
Anderson said the road and rail industry wanted the Truganina site, through which the majority of freight moves already, and “the sooner we can start it, the better”.
There was no new money in last week’s federal budget for either terminal while the 90-day review is under way. The $1.62 billion for Beveridge from last year’s March budget remains, as does $740 million for planning Truganina.
“There have been no changes to commitments on intermodal facilities in the 2023-24 federal budget, and the Albanese government will continue working co-operatively with the Victorian government on the funding and delivery arrangements for [Truganina],” a spokeswoman for King said.
The Andrews government has made no commitment for the Beveridge site and prioritised the west, setting aside $6.1 million for planning in last year’s state budget, but it believes both terminals would eventually be needed.
The projects became a flashpoint during the 2022 federal election when Labor and the Coalition diverged on whether the north or the west – two growth areas crying out for more secure jobs – should take precedence.
King last year accused the Coalition of making a “fake commitment” for $1.62 billion to build in Beveridge and of announcing a litany of “press release projects” she claimed the then Morrison government had no intention of pursuing.
Melbourne’s existing hub, which does not support double-stacked trains, will close after 2030.
Rod Hannifey, president of the National Road Freighters Association, who prefers Truganina for the interstate terminal, said a second review was an opportunity to consult after Inland Rail was botched so badly.
“Do a lousy job, and then we’re stuck with it for the next 50 to 100 years, and it’s too late, money wasted,” he said. “But realistically, they’ve got to decide and make a plan and stick with it.”
State opposition spokeswoman for freight Roma Britnell said the Andrews government should be pressuring federal Labor to get on with the ventures, and accused state Labor of focusing on spin rather than getting freight off roads.
“The talk has not resulted in an outcome as yet, and I think a decade is a long time.”
She said progress had been slow on parts of the Port Rail Shuttle Network, which would move 30 per cent of containers across Melbourne by rail, and the mode-shift incentive scheme needed to be enhanced.
Infrastructure experts have welcomed the review of all projects, which exempts election commitments and those too far into construction, particularly while capacity is constrained by labour and supply shortages.
A Victorian government spokeswoman said the state understood the need for both terminals but its priority was in the west. “We’ve been clear that we’ll need new intermodal terminals both in Melbourne’s west and in Beveridge to deliver better outcomes for Victorian businesses and the community – but our priority is to see [Truganina] built first.”
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