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A sell-off of Victoria’s regional freight rail network to a federal agency has been floated amid preparations for long-term lease negotiations.
The Australian Rail Track Corporation currently operates the interstate freight railway lines which run through Victoria, and is negotiating with the state government for a new 99-year lease.
The Herald Sun understands Victorian bureaucrats have considered putting control of the state’s other standard gauge freight lines — including the problem-plagued Murray Basin rail corridor — on the table in discussions with the ARTC. The Mildura line, the Maryborough to Ararat line and the Rainbow-Dimboola line were also considered.
While there are no immediate plans to sell off the lines, it is believed some initial work has been done internally to determine their value and condition.
It was revealed last week that the $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project had run out of funding, and that work to upgrade the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines would be delayed because urgent repairs were needed first.
Negotiations for a new long-term lease of Victoria’s interstate freight lines — from Melbourne to Albury and Melbourne to Adelaide — are expected to take up to 18 months as part of the Commonwealth’s Inland Rail project.
“The government has agreed with the Commonwealth to undertake these negotiations, which are in the very early stages,” a state government spokeswoman said.
Opposition transport infrastructure spokesman David Davis said the government had “comprehensively botched the management of our country freight lines” in recent years.
“Through all that time it failed to maintain or neglected Victoria’s regional freight lines, including our standard gauge lines. They have run them into the ground,” he said.
“If these are flogged or surrendered, we won’t see Victorian public control of these assets again in our lifetime.”
Asked whether the ARTC would consider leasing other Victorian freight lines, corporate affairs manager Bas Bolyn said: “There are no formal discussions on this matter and no proposals are currently being considered.”
“ARTC has a strong track record of effectively managing and operating rail networks across Australia,” he said.
“We have an interest in ensuring that we grow rail’s market share in Australia and regularly have conversations with industry, government and other interested parties around how that might be achieved.”
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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