Containers moving through the Port of Melbourne

AUSTRALIA: The federal government and state of Victoria have agreed to fund a dual-gauge connection to the Somerton intermodal terminal in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, as part of a wider strategy to boost rail’s share of the traffic to and from the Port of Melbourne.

Originally developed by Austrak as part of a 106 ha business park, the Somerton hub lies alongside ARTC’s Melbourne – Sydney interstate rail link, which is being upgraded as the southern end of the Inland Rail Corridor. However, it is separated from the 1 435 mm gauge interstate tracks by the parallel 1 600 mm gauge main line which carries electric suburban services as far as Craigieburn.

The two governments have agreed to provide A$16·2m to fund improved connections into the terminal, to support the expansion of the Port Rail Shuttle Network. This is intended to link various intermodal facilities around Melbourne to the port, in conjunction with Port of Melbourne’s A$125m programme to improve on-dock rail facilities.

Existing tracks into the business park will be rebuilt and other infrastructure modified. The north-facing rail access to the terminal will be realigned, and facilities installed for handling refrigerated containers. The work is due for completion by mid-2022.

According to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development Michael McCormack, the Somerton port shuttle is expected to remove an estimated 20 000 lorry trips per year from the city’s roads.

‘Putting containers on rail will reduce truck movements around the port gate and cut the cost of the last mile, which disproportionately impacts rail freight customers’, explained Victoria’s Minister for Ports & Freight Melissa Horne. ‘This is a massive win for both motorists and industry, as we continue to reduce congestion and make it easier and cheaper for businesses to use rail freight.’

Since opening in 2005, the Somerton terminal has been used by Qube and DP World. Austrak anticipated that the facility would be handling ‘tens of thousands of containers per year’ within five years.

The Somerton initiative follows the announcement in August of plans to develop another intermodal freight hub at Dandenong, to the southeast of the city. Plans are also being developed for port rail shuttles to the proposed Western Interstate Freight Terminal at Altona, which would be accessed via the Regional Rail Link west of Sunshine.