WORK on the Ballarat line of the regional fast rail network has been delayed until September - four months behind schedule.
Premier Steve Bracks this week visited the Ballarat plant of train maker Alstom, one of the companies working on the 64-minute project, when he again reassured residents that the network would be completed by mid-2005.
Work on the $573 million project officially began last October, a month before the state election, when Premier Bracks turned a ceremonial sod on the Ballarat line at Bacchus Marsh.
But since then not a single sleeper or rail line has been laid on the Ballarat line, which was scheduled to begin in May.
Transport Minister Peter Batchelor yesterday blamed the delays on various contractors completing design work, but said he expected them to complete the construction phase on budget and on time.
"People have to remember this is the biggest upgrade in Victoria's history and it is a complex project," he said.
"The constructors have set their own target date to start construction in September but I'm assured there will be no delay in the completion date which remains on schedule for mid-2005."
Mayor David Vendy yesterday met with Premier Bracks and Treasurer John Brumby when he put the pair on the spot over the fast train in front of a delegation of the region's civic leaders.
"There is clearly a delay and the reason given to me by the Premier in Ballarat's case was blamed on delayed land negotiations," he said.
"But he was quite adamant that the project would be completed on time even though his body language showed he was a bit embarrassed.
"I'm obviously concerned it has taken so long already but I've been reassured that the completion date would remain the same."