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THE $440 million Murray Basin Rail project has run out of steam and funding, with Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan forced to wind back the troubled project.
Work was due to start on upgrading and converting the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines from broad to narrower standard-gauge track next month.
But Ms Allan said inspections of both lines by Rail Project Victoria staff had shown the Manangatang line was heavily degraded and in desperate need of repair.
“There are parts of the line that are almost non-existent,” Ms Allan said. “V/Line said if you don’t do some urgent work on the Manangatang line we will be forced to close before the coming grain season.
“Faced with that … I’ve decided we have to keep it open.”
About $23 million will now be spent on repairing the track.
When The Weekly Times questioned why work to fully upgrade and standardise both lines could not be done now, rather than patching up the track now and having to come back to do the full job at a later date, Ms Allan said she was advised the condition of the track was so poor that the complete upgrade would take too long.
“We wouldn’t be able to get it done before the grain season,” she said.
Ms Allan also revealed the $23 million would eat up the last of the $440 million that both the state and federal governments had committed to the project. “With the investment in Manangatang most of the $440 million has been invested,” she said.
The minister said the Victorian Government would now have to revisit the business case for the Murray Basin Rail Project and “talk to the Federal Government to progress the next stage”.
She said she could appreciate that it would be frustrating for grain producers who wanted to see the project completed. It’s the second time upgrades to the Manangatang and Sea Lake lines have been delayed, with Ms Allan forced to suspend work last year, due to delays in upgrading the Maryborough to Ararat line, which also proved to be in far poorer condition than detailed in the original business case.
At the time rail industry insiders told The Weekly Times project management was taken out of V/Line’s hands and passed on to Rail Projects Victoria because of its poor performance.
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