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Outgoing Asciano boss John Mullen has attacked the federal government’s lack of commitment to investing in rail infrastructure and has called on both major parties to fully commit to building the dedicated freight line linking Melbourne and Brisbane, known as inland rail.
Mr Mullen’s call came as Transport Minister Darren Chester said the Coalition’s promise of completing the inland rail project by 2023 would not be met, and that all of the almost $900 million allocated so far would not actually build any track. The funding is only for preparatory work.
As Australia faces soaring growth in road freight volumes, Mr Mullen said the emphasis on road investment “will not address the long-term freight challenge facing our nation”.
“Increasingly, expenditure on rail is sorely needed,” he said.
Mr Mullen told The Australian the government was spending eight times more on road projects in this budget than on rail, reinforcing Australia’s dependence on road freight that was the highest in the world.
Such a new freight line would transform transportation by allowing vastly more efficient trains to move the nation’s goods, Mr Mullen said.
Following completion of the $9.2 billion takeover of Asciano, Mr Mullen plans to step down from the port and transport operator to take on the role of Telstra chairman. Asciano shareholders backed the takeover last week.
Mr Chester, a Nationals MP, is strongly committed to the project but has been unable to secure the funding needed to build what he calls the “Snowy of the 21st century’’.
He says inland rail will slash transport costs and make roads safer by cutting 200,000 truck movements a year. “Our focus now is on the pre-construction work, the land acquisition and finalising that route. The next challenge will be securing the additional money, in the order of $10bn, to actually carry out the construction activity,” he said.
Labor transport spokesman Anthony Albanese said inland rail had not advanced at all under the Coalition, with no extra money spent on the project during this term of government, despite the commitment to build it by 2023. “What they have done is tread water; they got in and did another study, for what reason is beyond me,” Mr Albanese said.
“It is amazing there wasn’t a single extra dollar in the first two budgets for this project. This year there is some money in, but not enough to start construction. In 2013 they committed to fast-track the project.”
Mr Albanese said the project was not a vote winner, but he said it was the “right thing to do”, adding: “It is a bloody good project.’’
This article first appeared on www.theaustralian.com.au
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