Thursday 20th Feb, 2020

Concerns over old rails, funding shortage for Murray Basin Rail Project

Photo: Supplied

Pacific National CEO Dean Dalla Valle says more government funding should be provided if needed to properly complete the Murray Basin Rail Project, after photos emerged suggesting 100-year-steel rails have been repurposed for sections of the upgraded track.

The project, which received $440 million in joint government funding in 2018, was designed to standardise tracks in Victoria’s northwest. But reports in July there would not be enough money to convert the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines as part of the project have been followed this month with photos suggesting steel rails from the 1910s have been laid on new concrete sleepers and ballast, between Maryborough and Ararat.

Dalla Valle, who is chair of the Freight on Rail Group of Australia as well as the boss of Australia’s largest rail freight operator, said the reports of old steel track pre-dating the First World War was “concerning”.

“This defeats one of the key objectives of the project to increase rail freight productivity via increased axle weights,” he said.

Part of the Murray Basin Rail Project is to create a network which can consistently handle up to 21-tonne wheel axle weights, up from 19-tonne wheel axle weights.

“Old steel tracks can also create speed restrictions which result in slower travel times to port,” Dalla Valle added. “Time is money for freight forwarders and exporters.”

If measures like this are indeed being made due to a lack of funding, Dalla Valle says the solution is simple: governments should provide more.

“Every major infrastructure project has its ups and downs. It’s to be expected. What matters is how these obstacles and setbacks are overcome and contained,” he said.

“Unfortunately, to date, execution of the Murray Basin Rail Project has been poor – government runs the risk of taking its eyes off the prize.”

Dalla Valle also said more staging areas should be established for freight trains at Maryborough under the project.

“Being able to stage (essentially stagger or sequence) the run of freight trains into port provides enhanced flexibility of services – staging areas help to unclog the network; they act as a pressure valve,” he said.

“With a renewed focus and precision of execution by government, I’m confident many of these problems can be resolved. Industry stands ready to assist.”

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