THE NSW government plans to invest $24 million to upgrade a section of rail in the state’s west to allow heavier freight trains to join the Inland Rail line.

The funding targets a 96-kilometre stretch of track between Gilgandra and Coonamble and aims to boost capacity and lower freight costs.

It is part of the state government’s $400-million Fixing Country Rail program, which aims to improve capacity, access and reliability by upgrading parts of the regional rail network.

Minister for regional transport and roads Sam Farraway said the investment targets infrastructure that will directly help freight operators and primary producers.

“It takes an average of 10 hours to load a freight train,” Mr Farraway said.

“By upgrading our rail network through our Fixing Country Rail program, we will allow more freight to be transported per trip, reducing delays and allowing goods and produce to get from farms and factories to our ports and supermarket shelves quicker.

“The more efficient we can make our supply chain, the less it costs our freight industry, which will ultimately reduce costs for families at the register.”

Mr Farraway said the rail line is to be upgraded to a 25-tonne axle load to allow access for heavier trains.

He said the upgrade would also increase the total produce that can be transported through the region from the current 84-tonne gross weight limit to 100 tonnes per wagon.

“By upgrading the rail line between Gilgandra and Coonamble, we’re enabling the line to provide the same axle load capability of the Inland Rail alignment that will connect at Curban in the future.

“Big loads and long distances are where our rail network shines. Rail freight is the most cost-effective way to transport large quantities over long distances with one 600-metre long train carrying the equivalent load of at least 54 trucks.”

Mark Owens, national transport and logistics manager at Manildra Group, said the agribusiness has been advocating for the project for some time.

“We are pleased to hear of the NSW Liberal and Nationals government investment as this project will be consistent with alignment and load limit requirements of the Inland Rail,” Mr Owens said.

Gilgandra Shire mayor Doug Batten said the upgrade would ensure 25-tonne axle weight grain trains on the Gilgandra to Coonamble line would be able to join the Inland Rail line.

“The project is a game-changer for Gilgandra in connecting our farmers to the rest of the state and strengthening our local economy,” he said.

“This line services a large cereal and grain producing region supplying the domestic flour milling, oilseed and stockfeed sectors and bulk exports markets via Port Kembla and Newcastle; it is a vital part of the state’s economy.”

The NSW government expects upgrade works on the line between Gilgandra and Coonamble to start in mid-2023, weather and material supply permitting.