The state government has committed to completing the Murray Basin Rail Project.
Premier Daniel Andrews, alongside Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan and Minister for Agriculture Jaala Pulford, announced the standardisation and upgrade of the entire freight network at Maryborough on Monday.
The $416 million project is expected to boost the safety, capacity and reliability of freight services in Northern Victoria and better connect primary producers to Victoria’s major ports.
Under the Labor government’s plan, lines from Geelong to Mildura, Manangatang, Sea Lake and Murrayville will be standardised, and the existing unused standard gauge connection between Maryborough and Ararat will be reopened.
Upgrades to dual gauge rail between Gheringhap and Maryborough include sections of the Ballarat line, in what Rail Revival Alliance president Noel Laidlaw said is a positive sign for advocates of passenger services between Ballarat and Geelong.
“In the short term, the Ballarat to Geelong passenger service hasn’t been precluded by any of it,” Mr Laidlaw said.
“It’s actually been enhanced by this because they’re doing up the lines.”
However, Ms Allan said passenger services are not considered priority to the project.
“At this stage passenger rail is not a priority, this is a priority project – that is certainly what the region has communicated very clearly to this government,” she said.
The project will contribute significantly to the transportation of grain, with axle loading on Murray Basin freight lines to be increased to 21 tonnes.
The increased efficiency in the network is projected to remove around 20,000 truck trips to the ports each year.
Major works are expected to commence in the second half of 2016, to allow for the completion of the grain season, while 270 jobs will be created during construction.
Labor has provided up to $220 million in the 2015-16 Victorian Budget for the project, with $5 million fast-tracked in February to get work started on critical maintenance and safety works.
“(The) project is critical in terms of jobs, in terms of productivity, in terms of efficiency, but ultimately it's about making sure we look after the people who are central to the growth and prosperity of our state, and that's people who are often doing it tough in rural and regional areas,” Mr Andrews said.