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THE Murray Basin Rail project was to be a game-changer for Victoria.
It’s beyond frustrating to see it in disarray after four years’ work. This must be rectified, as a priority.
The project aimed to convert the Mildura, Sea Lake and Manangatang lines from broad gauge to standard gauge; and to upgrade and convert sections of track between Ballarat and Gheringhap (near Geelong) and between Ballarat and Maryborough.
These rail lines carry grain, mineral sands and horticultural produce to the ports for export.
The $440 million investment was supposed to mean faster travel times and that trains could carry heavier loads. The upgrade would get more freight off trucks and on to rail.
But after four years the only section that’s been standardised is Merbein and Ararat, and even then there are lots of problems with that work.
Capacity on the line has actually reduced. Fewer trains can operate, and the length and weight of trains and their speed has been reduced.
The Merbein to Melbourne trip has increased to 15 hours one way. So much for a 24-hour round trip.
It will cost money to get this project back on track but the State Government can’t keep stalling with that excuse.
When meeting with Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas, I reminded him that regional Victorians see the tens of billions of dollars going into Melbourne transport projects.
Don’t treat our communities and industries like second class citizens and say you don’t have funds.
I do believe the benefits of the project will compel the Federal Government to look at more funding.
It will be incumbent on the Victorian Government to prove beyond any doubt that they are capable of getting the project back on track.
The future of Victoria’s rail freight network, and the industries that depend on it, are far too important for this opportunity to be lost.
The Basin Rail project must be finished — in full — as a priority.
• Ken Wakefield is the former owner of Sunraysia-based Wakefield Transport and is now a business consultant
This article first appeared on www.weeklytimesnow.com.au
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