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The Morrison government has refused to offer extra money for the cash-strapped and delayed $440 million Murray Basin Rail project in this year's budget, angering grain farmers who are headed for a bumper season this summer.
The project, designed to standardise rail corridors in Victoria's west to bring them into the 21st century, is expected to remove 20,000 annual truck trips to the ports of Geelong, Melbourne and Portland.
The Murray Rail project is intended to upgrade rail transport in Victoria's west.CREDITAT SCALA
But work on the project stalled in June last year as money ran dry, with the state government revising its business case for the project that is now running several years late.
Grain farmers who are gearing up for a busy season had expected the Morrison government to tip in more cash to rejuvenate the project now claim they have been abandoned.
"It's pretty disappointing really for Victorian farmers," Victorian Farmers Federation grains group president Ashley Fraser said.
"I'm horrified to think we are going into 2021 without any direction on funding for this project. It's just appalling."
Transporting grain on rail is far more efficient than trucks, with Mr Fraser estimating that a freight train can carry 3000 tonnes compared with a B-Double truck carrying about 42 tonnes. Rail is more than $20 cheaper a tonne than a truck, he said.
The Andrews government expects to finish the project by late 2023 – far later than the December 2018 completion date outlined in the project's 2015 business case.
The Victorian Auditor-General exposed the project's serious lags in meeting scope, time, cost and quality benchmarks in an audit earlier this year. The project has received $240 million from the federal government and $199 from the state.
A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the federal government would not budge from its $240 investment, but wanted to "progress a solution" on the project.
Grain farmers had expected the Morrison government to tip in more cash.CREDITAT SCALA
"As we've said before, the Australian government has contributed more than $240 million to Murray Basin Freight Rail and stakeholders and the community deserve visibility of the revised business case and input into a transparent solution.
"We understand how important this project is and look forward to working with Victoria, industry and other stakeholders to progress a solution."
There were very few surprises in Tuesday night's federal budget transport-wise, with the federal government having already announced it would spend $1.1 billion for "shovel-ready" Victorian road and rail projects on Monday.
New elements however, included $2 billion in road safety money with Victoria to receive the lion's share of the ready-to-go road safety upgrades – a move welcomed by the RACV.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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