Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke has called on the state government to prioritise fully funding the Murray Basin Rail Project, to help stablise the state's economy during the coronavirus pandemic.
It follows the Victorian Auditor-General's Office concluding recent upgrades to regional railways are now "not yet improving rural freight outcomes in a timely and cost-efficient way".
In a report released on Wednesday, the VAGO said the state government's $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project had not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations set.
It said inadequate contract and project management, as well as incomplete engagement with stakeholders were among the reasons the project had not realised its full benefits.
The project aims to standardise rail freight lines servicing the Murray Basin region and increase axle loadings on those lines from 19 to 21 tonnes.
The Hopetoun railway line underwent enabling and repair works as part of stage one of the program in 2016.
The state government last year announced the remaining $23m, of the $440m federal and state money set aside for the project, would go on urgent repairs to the Manangatang line and a new business case. The report noted completion of stage two of the four-stage project was three years late.
The auditor-general recommended V-Line "expedite assessment of the cause of unresolved temporary speed restrictions on the re-opened standard-gauge line from Yelta (near Mildura) to Ararat", among other measures.
Mr Jochinke, of Murra Warra, said Wimmera farmers were not getting the the increased efficiency and value-adding which moving grain by rail entails.
"That's then reflected in the price that can be offered to the agricultural sector, because it physically costs more to shift the grain down railway lines," he said.
"The (federal) government itself is looking to get the economy going with stimulus packages, and yet we've got a project sitting here that could be delivering all these things which needs to be reworked and restarted. With the amount of construction going on in Melbourne, we are just asking for our promised share to be done in regional areas.
"If all of Victoria has a decent grain export season this year, all of our facilities will be put under immense pressure, and without an operating and efficient rail network, it is going to cost real money to growers."
V-Line and the Department of Transport have accepted all but one of the recommendations made by VAGO, and have each established action plans to implement these.
Rail Freight Alliance chief executive Reid Mather said the organisation felt "vindicated by the findings".
He said it would take "a significant amount of money" for the state government to repair the tracks it needed to and bring the project back to its original scope.
"Works have started on the Rainbow to Dimboola line about a week ago," he said.
"My understanding is the initial works are to get the trains running again at speeds of 10 kilometres an hour, and the rest of the work they will need to come back to later in the year to complete."
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