The federal government has agreed to a Victorian government request to spend a further $195 million on the stalled Murray Basin Rail Freight network.
Federal authorities have also put full standardisation of the network, back on the table, for the half-completed north-west Victorian rail freight network upgrade.
In October, the state government asked federal authorities for the additional money, after the completion of a revised business case for the troubled million project.
Federal transport minister Michael McCormack said the extra funding, which includes $5 million for planning the standardisation of the network, is in addition to the $240.2 million the Federal Government had 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," Mr McCormack said.
"It's crucial that a reliable rail network is available to efficiently move this 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 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."
The announcement follows temporary speed restrictions, on the section south of Ultima, due to the poor condition of the track.
Trains are now restricted to 20 kilometres an hour, for the entire 53km section, between Korong Vale value to around Quambatook, to minimise the impact on track infrastructure..
A V/Line spokesman said a combination of high autumn rainfall and winter, and a hot dry spring, had further affected the condition of parts of the Mangantang freight line, between Quambatook and Korong Vale.
In 2019 V/Line completed a $23 million project to restore the track and sleeper condition between Lalbert and Manangatang, this section included key works to support the establishment of the Ultima Intermodal Freight Terminal.
"We're working hard to keep freight trains moving across Victoria throughout the busy grain season," the spokesman said.
"We regularly inspect all parts of the V/Line network and recently placed a speed restriction on a section of the Manangatang line, to ensure trains are able to continue to operate safely through the area."
In July last year, the state government announced an $83 million package, to focus on replacing sleepers, repairing ballast and renewing level crossing equipment along almost 400 kilometres of critical freight-only rail lines.
That included the Rainbow line - 66km; Hopetoun line - 110km; - Sea Lake line - 140km and Manangatang line - 72km Dunolly to Korong Vale.
The section from Korong Vale to Lalbert, south of Ultima, was not funded.
The Victorian Farmers Federation has welcomed the federal commitment to partly fund project and has called on the state to match the $5 million dollar planning commitment.
Grains Group president Ashley Fraser said the announcement was a positive step forward towards ensuring the state's outdated regional freight rail infrastructure is upgraded and standardised.
"It is crucial that Victorian farmers and the agriculture industry have the means to efficiently and affordably transport their produce from paddock to port and market," he said.
"As long as we continue to operate on two separate rail gauges in Victoria, farmers and industry will cotinine to bear the costs of an outdated and inefficient network."
He said the Victorian government must now come to the table, and match the funding committment.
"The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines must be converted to standard gauge as originally promised, we can't accept anything less and have been waiting far too long," Mr Fraser said.
Transparency was also needed on the future of the project and a hard deadline as to when it would be completed.
"We need visibility on the assessment of the entire project as well as a timeframe forof its full completion," he said.
"For a project that's entering its fifth year, we need to see there's a finish line in sight.
"The ball is firmly in the court of the Victorian government and they need to deliver what was originally promised."
Mr McCormack said a key part of the rescue package was $5 million for planning to deliver a fully standardised network of the Murray Basin Freight Rail Network."
He said he would be asking the state to match the federal government's $5 million funding, to 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," Mr McCormack said.
Freight on Rail Group of Australia chair Dean Dalla Valle said the coronavirus pandemic had brought the finely-tuned nature of Australia's supply chains into razor-sharp focus.
"These freight supply chains are made up of numerous complex links - rail, road, shipping and air. If any of these links are neglected or broken, then the safe and efficient transport of Australian goods and commodities is put at risk," Mr Dalla Valle said
"Australians will never forget the nationwide panic buying at supermarkets earlier this year.
"Inefficient freight supply chains hurt regional exporters and importers and increase cost of living pressures for millions of Australian households. "
He said FORG was therefore delighted at the new funding, for a network servicing one of the most important food and fibre bowls in the nation.
"If this rail freight network in Victoria is not properly maintained or upgraded, then the haulage of bulk agricultural commodities like grain to the ports of Geelong, Melbourne or Portland will quickly shift from trains to trucks," he said.
"This would be an extremely poor outcome for Victoria, resulting in more road accidents and fatalities, higher vehicle emissions, increased traffic congestion, and greater 'wear and tear' on council and state roads.
"Trucks are an important link in transporting goods and commodities the 'first and last mile' to and from rail terminals and ports, but as a society we shouldn't end up in a situation where they dominate every mile of the freight task."
Wannon Federal Liberal MP Dan Tehan welcomed the Australian Government's additional investment, which will see the re-railing of the line between Ararat and Maryborough.
Mallee Nationals Federal MP 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.
"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.
"The Victorian Government must come to the table, match our planning commitment and deliver the work quickly so we can realise the benefits of this critical infrastructure project.
"With industry and stakeholders, I am still frustrated by the Victorian Government's refusal to release the full business case; releasing just the executive summary is treating industry with contempt."
She said the state government's 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.
Money would be invested in works to improve the reliability and efficiency of lines for Yelta, Mildura, Murrayville, Ouyen, Dunolly, Maryborough and Ararat.
The Victorian Government will commit $48.8 million in further funding.
The initial $440 million project aimed to standardise the entire Murray Basin rail network by converting it from broad, to standard, gauge and increasing axle loading from 19 to 21 tonnes.
It has been stalled for more than 12 months, after the state government ran out of money.
But the revised business case recommended the upgrade of the north-western rail freight network would not be completed, as originally planned.
The business case authors argue "further standardisation of the network cannot be justified, on a value for money basis.
"The cost of further standardisation are significantly greater than forecast in the original business case and the anticipated benefits can largely be achieved by enhancing the existing standard and broad-gauge networks," the authors of the revised business case found.
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