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THE on-again, off-again Murray Basin Rail Project has received a $195.2 million Federal Government lifeline.
The bailout will put the stalled Victorian-owned, operated and managed project back on track after a damning report early this year found about half of the approved scope had been delivered using almost 87 per cent of the originally approved budget.
The extra funding, which includes an additional $5 million for planning the full standardisation of the network, is in addition to the $240.2 million the Federal Government has already committed to the project.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the rescue package would fund the most extensive combination of works recommended by the revised business case and the Victorian Government, which includes remedying key issues caused by works to date.
The Victorian Government requested the federal package following its completion of a revised business case that required an additional $244 million towards the project.
The state had already committed $48.8 million towards the revised project.
The Victorian Government's revised project does not include standardisation of either the Manangatang or Sea Lake lines, but it has been asked to put up $5 million of its own funds for a business case to pursue those works.
Mr McCormack said it was crucial that a reliable rail network was available to efficiently move grain, mineral sands, fruit and vegetables and wine, and to encourage more of that freight off the road network and on to the rail network.
"In April 2016, the Australian Government committed to the Murray Basin Freight Rail Project, which was to standardise the rail network and deliver significant efficiencies for industry and allow more freight to be carried by rail," he said.
"A key part of the rescue package is $5 million for planning to deliver a fully standardised network of the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network.
"I will be asking the Victorian Government to match the Federal Government's $5 million planning funding and come up with a robust plan for full standardisation.
"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."
Member for Mallee Anne Webster said she had participated in and hosted numerous stakeholder forums on the issues regarding the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network over the past 18 months.
"I've heard the same message in all of these meetings -- the project so far has failed to deliver and work towards full standardisation must continue," Dr Webster said.
She urged the Victorian Government to "come to the table" and match the Federal Government's planning commitment so that benefits could be quickly realised.
"With industry and stakeholders, I am still frustrated by the Victorian Government's refusal to release the full business case," she said.
"Releasing just the executive summary is treating industry with contempt."
Dr Webster said the Victorian Government decision to lay 100-year-old steel between Ararat and Maryborough as part of its "upgrade" of the Murray Basin Rail Project was short-sighted.
"This steel will need to be ripped up and replaced with material that is actually up to the job," she said.
"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."
This article first appeared on www.sunraysiadaily.com.au
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