THE FEDERAL Government has announced a $200.2 million rescue package for the stalled Murray Basin Freight Rail network.
In 2016, the Federal Government committed $240.2M to the project, which was to standardise the rail network on three lines in north-west Victoria which carry grain and other commodities to export and domestic customers.
However, only one line has been upgraded, and initial funding has been exhausted.
The Victorian Government requested the rescue package following its completion of a revised business case, and it was announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack.
It includes $5M for planning the standardisation of the network, and Mr McCormack said the $195.2M includes funds to remedy key issues caused by works to date.
“I will be asking the Victorian Government to match the Federal Government’s $5 million planning funding and come up with a robust plan for full standardisation.
“It’s crucial that a reliable rail network is available to efficiently move this grain, mineral sands, fruit and vegetables and wine, and to encourage more of that freight off the road network and on to the rail network,” Mr McCormack said.
Federal Member for Mallee Anne Webster said over the past 18 months, she had participated in and hosted numerous stakeholder forums on the issues regarding the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network.
“The Victorian Government decision to lay 100-year-old steel between Ararat and Maryborough as part of its ‘upgrade’ of the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network was short-sighted,” Dr Webster said.
“This steel will need to be ripped up and replaced with material that is actually up to the job.
“In the meantime, the Australian Government is listening to stakeholders and is investing in works to improve the reliability and efficiency of lines for Yelta, Mildura, Murrayville, Ouyen, Dunolly, Maryborough and Ararat.”
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has welcomed the additional funding.
VFF Grains Group president Ashley Fraser said the announcement was a positive step forward in ensuring Victoria’s outdated regional freight-rail infrastructure was upgraded and standardised.
“It is crucial that Victorian farmers and the agriculture industry have the means to efficiently and affordably transport their produce from paddock to port and market,” Mr Fraser said.
“As long as we continue to operate on two separate rail gauges in Victoria, farmers and industry will continue to bear the costs of an outdated and inefficient network.
“The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines must be converted to standard gauge as originally promised; we can’t accept anything less and have been waiting far too long.”
Source: Deputy Prime Minister, VFF