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THE cost of Victoria's troubled fast rail project is ballooning by more than $1 million a week.
Off track: Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said unexpected costs were normal for any large project.
The latest unexpected outlay of $9.3 million in nine weeks takes the blowout to $70 million in just five months.
The Government in November injected an extra $61 million into the project.
Fulfilling its promise of faster trains to Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon will now cost at least $67 million more than when contracts were signed in June 2002.
Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said the latest extra spending would not add to his most recent estimated $617 million final cost for the project.
Mr Batchelor said he met the unexpected $9.3 million for extra concrete sleepers and removing overhead lines on the Latrobe Valley line with existing contingency funds, as was normal with any large project.
But Opposition transport spokesman Terry Mulder said every dollar taken from the contingency funds was an extra dollar of taxpayers' money spent.
He said further substantial calls on the contingency fund were certain, with major work on the Bendigo line to still begin.
Mr Batchelor said the amount of money in the contingency fund was a commercial secret, but he believed it would be sufficient to meet future needs.
Cost variations to the original $115 million Latrobe Valley project, listed on the Department of Infrastructure website at $4.2 million on February 5, rose to $13.5 million.
Almost $6 million extra was paid when specifications for part of the line were changed to using concrete sleepers insetad of wooden ones.
"The variation direction states that the design using timber sleepers was not an approved track structure. So why was it approved in the first place?" asked Mr Mulder.
Mr Batchelor said the extent to which concrete sleepers were required was not apparent until the work started.
An extra $2.9 million was spent removing overhead wires between Pakenham and Warragul, and $250,000 to move power and other services for gantries supporting the decommissioned overhead wires to be removed.
Mr Batchelor said it was originally planned to have this work done by the Government-owned VicTrack, but the private sector proved less expensive.
Mr Mulder said this suggested the Government had planned to hide this cost. "The wires and posts supporting them were always going to be removed. Why weren't these costs specified in the original contract?" he said.
Other extra costs included $20,000 in advance booking
deposits to secure critical equipment, and $36,250 to modify two wagons to carry equipment and two carriages for work crews.
Mr Batchelor said work on the Latrobe Valley line was on track to be completed by the end of the month, with the Geelong line already finished and work well under way on the Ballarat line.
Herald Sun (via News.com.au)
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