Farming and freight industry groups are waiting with bated breath to see whether the ill-fated Murray Basin Rail Project will receive funding in tonight’s federal Budget.
- The Federal Government earmarks $1.1 billion for Victorian rail and road upgrades in the Budget
- Farmers want the Murray Basin Rail Project to be funded to completion
- Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan says talks are ongoing
About $1.1 billion worth of Victorian road and rail upgrades have already been announced but the Murray Basin project is not among them.
The project would take freight off the roads and instead travel mostly by train from Mildura through Maryborough and on to Geelong.
Quambatook farmer Brett Hosking, who is the chairman of GrainGrowers, said he would like to see the rail project funded for completion in the Budget.
“We’ve been told this is an infrastructure budget; it would be really great to see that on the list and to get our trucks off the road and away from our schools and our traffic.
“Especially this year when there is going to be a lot of grain around, most of it is going to be going to our ports, so it is a direct route on our rail straight to our ports. It’s the most efficient way of moving it.”
Victoria’s Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan welcomed the Commonwealth investment into state rail lines, but would not say whether the Murray Basin Rail Project would benefit.
“We know there is more work to be done,” she said.
“With the work that has been done to date, we had seen improvements to the rail freight network in the north and west of Victoria, but there’s more to do,” she said.
Ms Allan met with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who is also the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, in January to discuss the Murray Basin Rail Project.
The $440 million upgrade was halted last June after the Victorian Government was forced to divert funds to the heavily degraded Sea Lake to Manangatang line or risk its closure just before the grain season.
“I’m really keen to see the funds flow so we can get in ahead of the 2020-21 grain season,” Ms Allan said.
But the Victorian Rail Freight Alliance said it had been told there would not be any money in the Budget for the project.
Its chief executive, Reid Mather, said he was disappointed and frustrated that no-one would put up funding.
“From the $7.5 billion worth of rail and road projects that we expect to be announced, we’re exceptionally disappointed. Our understanding is that the Murray Basin Rail Project is not included in that.”
Mr Mather said the project met the requirements of being big-picture, infrastructure-based and could be done in a COVID-safe way.
The alliance said it was hard to know how much would be needed to finish the rail project because associated administration costs varied.