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Victoria's Auditor-General has slammed the state's handling of a half-finished western rail freight upgrade as "deficient" and "inadequate".
The project to [url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-17/murray-basin-rail-project-subject-of-complaint-to-ibac-victoria/12059644]upgrade western Victoria's Murray Basin freight corridor remains half-finished[/url], six years after it was announced.
The Auditor-General has confirmed the route to port from the north-west Victorian terminal at Yelta is now 128 kilometres longer than the original broad-gauge route.
The report's authors singled out the state's regional rail agency V/Line for "deficient project planning, cost estimation, and scoping" during the $440 million freight project.
Hundreds of kilometres of rail track upgrades remain incomplete, despite the public spend, and where work has been done crippling speed and weight restrictions remain in place.
The Auditor-General found the weight restriction of 19 tonnes remains for most operators using the network — [url=https://static.ptv.vic.gov.au/siteassets/PTV/PTV docs/Projects/Murray-Basin-Rail-Project-Summary-Brochure.pdf]despite a clear project aim of increasing the tonnage to 21[/url].
The report's authors have also confirmed previous media reports that the reopened Maryborough to Ararat section was rebuilt using legacy rail with a quality classed as no better than when the line was used in the 1990s.
"This presents a significant missed opportunity", the authors said, and "undermine[s] the Government's long-term policy goal of shifting freight from road to rail."
Poor risk managementThe report's authors found V/Line did not manage the project risks adequately.
[url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/freight-operators-say-the-murray-basin-rail-network-is-incapab/12067550][/url][img]https://www.abc.net.au/news/image/12060472-3x2-700x467.jpg[/img][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/freight-operators-say-the-murray-basin-rail-network-is-incapab/12067550][/url][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/freight-operators-say-the-murray-basin-rail-network-is-incapab/12067550]PHOTO: The Auditor-General has singled out the state's rail agency V/Line for "deficient project planning, cost estimation, and scoping". (Supplied: Graeme White)[/url]
A contract was agreed to in 2017 between the department, V/Line, and the McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail venture, but works were bogged down by more than 80 "series of variations, notices of delay, and extensions of time requests".
[quote][center]"These claims heavily impacted V/Line's time, cost, and risk contingency baselines for the MBRP," the report said.
[/center][/quote]The construction consortium ultimately withdrew its workforce after a workplace safety breach in 2018 and later reached a settlement with V/Line to stop work on the project, leaving it incomplete.
[url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-11/inland-rail-what-you-need-to-know/9240946]What you need to know about inland rail[/url][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-11/inland-rail-what-you-need-to-know/9240946][/url][img]https://www.abc.net.au/cm/lb/9245622/data/a-freight-train-waiting-to-leave-melbourne-data.jpg[/img][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-11/inland-rail-what-you-need-to-know/9240946][/url]
[url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-11/inland-rail-what-you-need-to-know/9240946]Proponents say Australia is in desperate need of an inland railway to ease the number of trucks on our roads and create a more efficient freight system for the next 100 years.[/url]
The Department of Transport did not escape criticism either and has been blamed for its lack of "due diligence" during the project, and for endorsing an original business case that included "over-optimistic expectations" about freight demand and "untested assumptions about the project's complexity".
"These project planning expectations adversely affected project delivery [and] … led to engineering and construction difficulties", the report said.
The Auditor-General recommended the Government expedite works to finish the project and "improve its contract management" by introducing measurable performance indicators.
No word on further fundingVictoria's Transport Minister Jacinta Allan told Parliament that the report went to matters "that have been well-canvassed over the last couple of years".
[url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/victorias-rail-futures-institute-said-those-responsible-for-th/12067644][/url][img]https://www.abc.net.au/news/image/12067600-3x2-340x227.jpg[/img][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/victorias-rail-futures-institute-said-those-responsible-for-th/12067644][/url][url=https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-18/victorias-rail-futures-institute-said-those-responsible-for-th/12067644]PHOTO: Victoria's Rail Futures Institute said those responsible for the failed project need to be held accountable. (ABC Ballarat: Charlotte King)[/url]
"The Government has said previously on a number of occasions that we've been disappointed with the performance of the previous contractor and the management of the project, previously by V/Line," Ms Allan said.
[quote][center]"And that's why some time ago the project had moved across to be delivered by Rail Projects Victoria. They are continuing to finalise the business case."
[/center][/quote]The Auditor-General's report has made it clear that a significant injection of further funding will be required to complete the project.
But the Minister has refused to confirm whether further money will be included in this year's budget.
"I've had a number of conversations with the Deputy Prime Minister about both the delivery of work to date and what needs to be done in the future," she told Parliament.
"There is still some work to be done."
Calls for accountabilityThe report found that senior accountability for the project's failings was "diffused" due to the many changes around personnel over the life of the project.
The president of Victoria's Rail Futures Institute, John Hersch, said the failed outcome involved systemic failures that needed to be addressed.
"There ought to be people held to account. Whether that will ever be done in the public domain or not, we don't know," he said.
[quote][center]"With such a large amount of money involved, and the genuine expectations from the benefits which largely haven't been realised, you would certainly expect action would be taken."
[/center][/quote]"The project hasn't delivered," he said, "and that's completely unsatisfactory".
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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