Grain growers in and around Manangatang are facing another harvest without an upgraded and effective rail network as the Murray Basin Rail Project grinds to a halt, almost $370 million over budget.
It is a direct hit on the bottom line for such a massively important local industry
The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, has also condemned what he has branded the ‘deceptive campaign’ being spruiked by Mildura ‘independent’ MP Ali Cupper.
Mr Walsh says Ms Cupper’s insistence the stalled project is “almost complete” could not be further from the truth.
He says the Victorian Auditor-General’s report from September last year spells it out in black and white – the project is five years overdue and $367.9 million over budget.
“And that’s despite Canberra topping it up because the Andrews Labor government was claiming without Federal cash the project would not succeed,” Mr Walsh says.
“Local producers and transporters say Labor’s botched delivery of Basin Rail has left our community worse off than before the project started,” he says.
“If Basin Rail is not completed – in full and to its original scope – it’ll limit our potential to open our region to domestic markets and new and emerging markets around the world.”
The locals have also slammed the Andrews Labor Government’s botched work on the rail line so far.
They say shoddy workmanship has slowed speed limits to 25kmh and lowered the axle loading leaving the line less efficient and taking five hours longer to get to port than before the project started.
Mr Walsh says this year’s May State Budget labelled the Estimated Completion Date as “tbc”, noting “the completion date will be disclosed following completion of the procurement processes”.
“Labor has spent years crab walking away from the Premier’s 2015 promise that it would continue these upgrades and complete the project in full,” Mr Walsh added.
“Labor’s project mismanagement has sent the Basin Rail Project spiralling down a black hole of cost blowouts and delays, but instead of fixing the problems the Andrews Labor Government’s rewriting history with a ‘rescoping’.
“The livelihoods of local producers and transporters rely on an efficient freight rail network. Remember this November when you vote for the next government that Ms Cupper and her city Labor mates are willing to abandon north-west Victoria.”
Last week, Labor Freight Minister Melissa Horne was slammed for describing the freight network as “gold-class”, with rail experts saying it’s in such bad disrepair that Victoria is being left behind in productivity.
THE SORRY SAGA OF THE MURRAY BASIN RAIL PROJECT
5 May 2014: The Victorian Government says a business case into standardising the freight network from Mildura to Geelong will be completed by the end of the year. The Murray Basin Rail Project will convert existing broad-gauge tracks to a standard gauge, bringing rail networks in Victoria’s west into line with key freight networks across the country.
A 2015 Government media release on the Basin Rail trumpeted “the Labor Government’s comprehensive plan” with Daniel Andrews quoted saying “the Andrews Labor Government is committed to the full Murray Basin Rail Project”.
26 August 2015: Grain exporters say the Victorian Government’s Murray Basin rail upgrade, announced last week, is a “great step forward” for the industry. The Government committed $416 million to standardise and upgrade the northern and western rail freight network.
31 March 2016: Victorian Agriculture minister Jaala Pulford has renewed calls for the Federal Government to help fund the $416million Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP).
13 March 2017: V/Line defends Murray Basin progress. Victoria’s freight rail network, V/Line, had seen nearly a 70 per cent increase in grain traffic, this season, compared with last year, according to chief executive James Pinder.
30 May 2018: The State Government has rejected opposition claims work on the Murray Basin Rail project has been derailed. The opposition claimed Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan had been caught out in the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee (PAEC) hearing and forced to admit the upgrade had ground to a halt.
15 June 2018: V/Line’s poor performance in delivering $440 million of Murray Basin rail upgrades has forced the Victorian Government to pull the regional rail operator off the project and cancel contracts.
6 July 2018: Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan has confirmed that the original contractors for the Ararat-Maryborough freight line have been removed from the project. The line reopened earlier this year after 13 years of sitting idle after works though the Murray Basin Rail Projects, which is jointly funded by the state and federal governments.
9 November 2018: Mildura was not included in Labor’s plans to revive regional rail and a government spokeswoman this week said its priority was completing the Murray Basin Rail Project and Freight Passenger Rail Separation Project by 2020.
14 June 2019: In what didn’t come as a great surprise to many, the State Government revealed this week that the Murray Basin Rail Project (MSRP) had run out of money, and effectively stalled. Allegations had been rife for months before and after the State election that the project was in danger of derailing, and that completion was a long way down the track.
28 August 2019: The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project has left Victoria’s grain belt with a slower network, with only half the lines upgraded and standardised. The five-stage project has run out of funding with less than half the work completed. Rail freight operators say they’ve been left with a mismatch of upgraded broad-gauge and dilapidated narrower standard-gauge lines that is worse than when the project started. Victoria’s Rail Freight Alliance said trains were averaging 36km/h along the “upgraded” Mildura line, which is rated at 80km/h for most of its distance.
12 September 2019: The head of Australia’s largest private rail freight operator, Pacific National, has expressed concerns century-old steel is being used on the troubled Murray Basin Rail project. PN chief executive Dean Dalla Valle says rail track, dating from 1912, was repurposed, before being laid on new concrete sleepers and ballast, between Maryborough and Ararat. “Unfortunately, to date, execution of the Murray Basin Rail Project has been poor – government runs the risk of taking its eyes off the prize,” Mr Dalla Valle said.
25 September 2019: Australia’s biggest rail freight operator, Pacific National, has issued a scathing report on the troubled $440million Murray Basin Rail project. In its latest Status Report on the project, Pacific National estimated inadequate design and construction meant a maximum of only nine trains a week could operate on the Murray Basin network.