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THE total cost of meeting Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ 2015 promise to deliver “the full Murray Basin Rail Project” has blown out to $1 billion. The startling cost is outlined in the Andrews Government business case, which has just been lodged with federal Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack.
Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan lodged the business case last week, more than 12 months after the half-completed project, which was meant to have cost $416 million, ran out of funds. But while Ms Allan has re-costed the full upgrade and standardisation of more than 1133km of rail line at $1 billion, it is understood she is seeking much less in a bid to deliver a cut-down version of the project.
Under any funding agreement Victoria would be required to match the federal contribution, which has resulted in Ms Allan winding back the Premier’s original promise, by abandoning the full upgrade and standardisation of the Manangatang and Sea Lake grain lines.
Ms Allan did not respond to The Weekly Times questions on how much was being sought from the commonwealth, what the Victorian Government would contribute and what aspects of the project’s original goals have been cut back. Mr McCormack’s office said: “The Federal Government is considering a recently revised business case produced by the Victorian Government.”
But Victorian Nationals Leader Peter Walsh said Mr McCormack had told a Zoom meeting of rail and grain industry stakeholders last week he had written to Ms Allan requesting more information before making a budget allocation. Stakeholders asked Mr McCormack if there was enough information in the business case to complete the project, as was originally promised by the Premier in 2015, but he declined to comment.
Mr Walsh said it was clear there was nothing for Sea Lake and Manangatang lines. But he said funding was being sought to redo the Maryborough to Ararat line, which the Andrews Government had attempted to upgrade using second-hand track from the Castlemaine line. “It’s 80-years-old steel that didn’t weld (properly) and cracked,” Mr Walsh said.
In March the Victorian Auditor General’s Office found the project had “not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations”. The report said the project was late and would require a considerable injection of new funds.
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