Canberra tips treasure into Murray Basin freight rail

Delayed and heavily criticised project to get $200m federal cash

Canberra tips treasure into Murray Basin freight rail
The MBRP has ground to a halt


The Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP), the Victorian effort heavily criticised by the state’s Auditor General (AG), is to have $200 million more of federal cash tipped into it.

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP) and the complementary $130 million Freight-Passenger Rail Separation Project (FPRSP) were found in March to have "suboptimal" and fragmented structures and planning.

 "The MBRP and FPRSP have not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations, the AG’s report states.

"These projects are late and will require a considerable injection of new funds if their intended outcomes are to be fully realised."

It also notes a lack of staff continuity on the project, which involves, amongst other things, standardisation of lines down to Geelong port.

Now, after there was no Victorian Budget cash for the project, the federal Liberal and Nationals Government has announced a $200.2 million rescue package for the stalled Victorian owned, operated and managed Murray Basin Freight Rail network.

Federal infrastructure and transport minister Michael McCormack says the extra funding, which includes $5 million for planning the standardisation of the network, is in addition to the $240.2 million it has already committed to the project.

"The Federal Government’s $195.2 million rescue package is funding the most extensive package of works recommended by the revised business case and the Victorian government, which includes remedying key issues caused by works to date," McCormack says.

"The Victorian Government requested the package following its completion of a revised business case.

"It is clear to both governments that there needs to be greater accountability for this project going forward, to ensure these works are delivered in a timely and efficient manner."

McCormack says he will ask the Victorian government to match the $5 million planning funding and come up with a robust plan for full standardisation, though ABC News reports Victorian transport minister Jacinta Allen as failing to commit to that when asked today.

"I need to go back through various cabinet and budget processes before I can make any commitment to fund further business case works," Allen is quoted as saying, adding that freight and rail networks had been changing over the past decade.

Read about early progress on the project, here

Federal member for Mallee Anne Webster said over the past 18 months, she had participated in and hosted numerous stakeholder forums on the issues regarding the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network.

"With industry and stakeholders, I am still frustrated by the Victorian government’s refusal to release the full business case," Webster says.

"Releasing just the executive summary is treating industry with contempt.

"The Victorian Government decision to lay 100-year-old steel between Ararat and Maryborough as part of its ‘upgrade’ of the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network was short-sighted.

"This steel will need to be ripped up and replaced with material that is actually up to the job.

"In the meantime, the Australian Government is listening to stakeholders and is investing in works to improve the reliability and efficiency of lines for Yelta, Mildura, Murrayville, Ouyen, Dunolly, Maryborough and Ararat."

After the state Budget, the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) called for the state government to head back to the drawing board on it and other regional freight infrastructure.

"Regional roads continue to crumble and freight trains crawl to port at a huge cost to industry," VFF president David Jochinke says.

"We see billions flowing to metro and passenger rail projects, yet critical freight corridors continue to be ignored. This doesn’t make us feel like we received our fair share

"The budget invested an average $19.6 billion a year in infrastructure, yet there is little more than $300 million allocated for regional road maintenance.

"Regional freight seems to have been put last in this year’s Budget.

"Without efficient regional freight the ability for our export focused industries to exceed the National Farmer’s Federation goal of $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030 could be put at risk.

"We don’t want to put a ceiling on the growth of our agriculture industry."

VFF Grains Group president Ashley Fraser says investment in freight rail was essential to get trucks off roads and reduce Victoria’s future road maintenance and upgrade bill.

"Walking away from the Murray Basin Rail Project will only push more truck onto roads," Fraser adds.

"This will require a far greater long term investment to keep these roads safe. It just doesn’t make sense.

"We are calling on the government to do the planning now to ensure next year’s Budget invests big in regional Victorian freight infrastructure."


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