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A war of words has erupted over the Murray Basin Rail Project after the Andrews Government revealed a cut-price model to finish the troubled scheme.
A revised business case for the project, first launched in 2014 to standardise regional freight lines in Victoria’s north west, has proposed an additional $244 million in funding to improve journey times, add new passing loops and upgrade critical corridors.
But the state government wants the Commonwealth to make up most of this, calling for $195.2 million in federal money to be secured to finish work before the 2021 grain season.
The State Opposition and figures within the rail freight industry have also hit out over the revised plan, which does standardise the railway from Maryborough through to Ballarat and Geelong.
The government maintains its revised program is the best way to improve the rail freight network without significant disruptions costs to the taxpayer that would outweigh its benefits.
The final cost of the program under this plan would be $814 million.
Workers on the Murray Basin Rail Project. This project to standardise rail from Mildura to Port is expected to improve the way produce gets to market.Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said the project was “too important to play politics with”.
“We want the Commonwealth to come forward with their support so we can get more freight on trains and more trucks off regional roads.”
“Our rail freight and passenger network has transformed since the project was first developed, and this revised set of works will make sure this project delivers for Victorian farmers and freight operators well into the future.”
A litany of issues and cost overruns on the Murray Basin Rail Project meant it ran out of $440 million in funding last year, with resources reprioritised for urgent repairs.
But it’s understood the federal government has not secured funding for the state’s revised deal because it wants to see the project delivered in full.
It has been eight years since the first business case for the project was made. Picture: Andy RogersVictorian Nationals Leader Peter Walsh said the government had shattered the hopes of producers in the region.
“The only one playing politics with the future of northwest Victoria is the Andrews Labor Government,” he said.
“It was the Victorian Government that decided to use antique track and failed to properly manage the delivery.
“Only fully standardising the freight rail network to the original scope of the project will deliver the astronomical cost and efficiency benefits and take tens of thousands of truck movements off our roads.”
Rail Futures president John Hearsch said it was disappointing to see parts of the original project would not be delivered.
He said the decision meant freight would continue to take a longer path to Melbourne through Ararat.
“One of the most important parts of the Murray Basin Rail Project was the standardisation from Maryborough to Ballarat and Geelong,” he said.
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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