Make Murray Basin rail fix Fischer's legacy

Grain to go by road, due to poor Victorian rail network

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LEGACY PROJECT: A north-west Victorian grain grower has called on the government to complete the troubled Murray Basin Rail Project as part of the late Tim Fischer's legacy, to the state.

LEGACY PROJECT: A north-west Victorian grain grower has called on the government to complete the troubled Murray Basin Rail Project as part of the late Tim Fischer's legacy, to the state.

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Graingrowers angry at failure to complete Murray Basin Rail Project.

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Berriwillock grain grower Garry Bibby has called on the state government to honour the late Tim Fischer, by finishing the Murray Basin Rail Project.

The former deputy Prime Minister, who died last year, also headed up the Victorian Rail Freight study.

"They should finish it, as part of his legacy," Mr Bibby said.

"It was his passion."

The Victorian Auditor-General's Office has found upgrades, under the $440 million project, were not yet improving rural freight outcomes in a timely and cost-efficient way.

The Auditor-General found governance arrangements for the MBRP were suboptimal, with different agencies responsible for different elements of the project .

"This has led to patchy corporate memory for the planning and delivery of the project,' the report found.

"It has also diffused senior officer accountability for project outcomes due to the many changes of key personnel since the project started"

The project had not met scope, time, cost or quality expectations.

According to the original business case timelines, completion of stage two was now three years late and would require a considerable injection of new funds, if its intended outcome was to be fully realised.

Mr Bibby said the whole project had been very poorly managed, with sleepers splitting and track welds coming undone.

"The state of the tracks is just incredibly poor, and slow, and a lot of grain is hitting the road now."

A lot of this year's grain harvest, which was very good in parts of the Wimmera, was being stored on-farm.

"Most people are putting it into bunkers, or bags, and there's only one place it's going to go, and that's down the road."

Rail should be competitive, but that was hard when the system was so inefficient.

Read more:

Auditor General releases damning report on Murray Basin Rail

Costs increase

The Auditor-General's report found rail haulage costs could increase on the unfinished sections of the MBRP, contrary to the project's aims to reduce them.

"In anticipation of this outcome, some rail freight users divested their broad gauge rolling stock," the report stated.

"Broad-gauge rolling stock is in limited supply, and these users may now need to lease back broad-gauge wagons at a potentially higher cost."

The Auditor-General found the Ararat to Maryborough track section was substantially rebuilt during the MBRP stage two works, using mainly legacy rail.

"As a result, this track remains at the class four rating, the same as when the line last ran in the early 1990s," the report found.

"Under V/Line's standards, this old rail requires lower line speeds for the section from Avoca to Ararat and low axle loads (19 tonne axle load) for the standard gauge rolling stock used by most rail freight operators.

"This represents a significant missed opportunity to have improved this section of the line by including fit-for-purpose rail in the original costings and scope."

Mr Bibby said the state government had found $10billion for rail projects, in Melbourne.

"They talk about pork barrelling, and think that is pretty much pork barrelling," he said.

"We need a commitment, somehow, because I don't know where it's all going to end."

Honor promise

Chris Plant, of the Victorian Farmers Federation Manangatang branch, said growers were hopeful the Victorian government would honor its promise.

They wanted the project completed to its original scope, trains running at 80 kilometres/hour, 21 tonne axle weights and standard gauge track.

"Growers are concerned that if the project is not completed more and more trucks will be pushed onto rural roads that are already in a poor state of disrepair and then onto metropolitan roads as the grain heads for port," Ms Plant said.

"If the Manangatang and Sea Lake lines are not upgraded and remain broad gauge, our costs may increase, due to lack of flexibility of freight operators having to run different gauge wagons on different lines."

She said the VFF understood there was already one bulk handling company that was not going to renew its leases, unless the government standardised all lines.

"This will just push trucks onto the roads," Ms Plant said.

"Every 100,000 tonnes that is pushed onto roads results in an extra 2,300 trucks.

"Extrapolating this for the four main sites on the Manangatang line equates to more than 9,000 extra trucks.

"The government is spending billions on level crossing removals in Melbourne as well as other projects, for example, a new underground rail tunnel," she said.

"It's only fitting that the Government honour its commitment to improve rail infrastructure in the north west of the state."

Grower anger

Brian Barry, Manangatang, said he was "gutted" at the way the government had treated residents of the north-west.

"The thing we desperately need up here is appropriate transport infrastructure and we have been denied it," Mr Barry said.

"It is a form of social and economic apartheid.

"That's what they've done to us, it's bloody disgusting, in the extreme.

"I am so angry, we are so angry, full stop."

He said the agricultural sector would be vital, during the coronavirus crisis, in providing food for Melbourne, while surplus food could be exported to pay down debt.

"We are absolutely gutted by the way the government has treated us, it's just an abomination."

Mr Barry said the region had been denied the money from the sale of the Port of Melbourne lease and Rural Finance Corporation.

Insufficient funding had been spent on road and rail, since the sales were completed.

"Rail and the Murray Valley and Calder highways are the arteries that cart this produce south," he said.

"It's an obscene joke that's been played on us."

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