Reopening the 63 km rail line from Sale to Bairnsdale for passengers has been a political promise for years – and it’s finally happening. But the down side is that 44,000 Redgum sleepers are to be used for the upgrade.
The patronage on the current bus service is very low so the passenger line might be marginally viable. If not, it will still be of huge benefit to the export woodchip industry which currently transports massive volumes of Gippsland’s logs on this same rail to the port at Geelong. If we were cynics we’d say this is another woodchip assistance package dressed up as a community service.
Use aside, the sleepers are said to be coming from private land in the Riverina district in NSW. That area can’t afford to lose one more tree but NSW land clearing regulations are weak.
What’s worse – the three planned fast rail lines and another upgrade of the Melbourne to Mildura line could see many more thousands of redgum sleepers called for.
Redgum lasted 30 – 40 years when the crusty old trees were used. Now, lower quality trees are cut which last between 5 -15 years. A redgum sleeper costs about $40 but needs plates, spikes and holes drilled. A concrete sleeper is about $60 with all those features pre-cast. They also last at least 3-4 times longer, so concrete easily wins out over redgum economically.
I hear the NSW Railway authority refuses to use redgum for this reason. So when Victoria tenders out the contract, NSW redgum loggers flog their remnant forests as crappy sleepers to the penny – pinching Vics.
This is an unforgivable disaster and must never be allowed to happen again. Keep tabs on the progress of rail upgrades in your area and let us know what’s planned. We will be contacting various authorities soon to ask for an explanation.