June 27, 2017

Victoria secures federal cash for regional rail upgrades

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AUSTRALIAN prime minister Mr Malcolm Turnbull announced a $A 1.42bn ($US 1.08bn) federal cash injection to fund upgrades to regional rail lines in Victoria on June 27.

Among the highlights are upgrades to the Ballarat line that will improve services to Ararat and Maryborough, which connect to Melbourne. The Gippsland line will also benefit from improvements to services between Packenham and Bairnsdale.

Victoria’s public transport minister Ms Jacinta Allan described it as a “once-in-a-generation investment.”

The complete breakdown of the funding is as follows:

• $A 555.6m - Ballarat Line
• $A 435m - Gippsland Line
• $A 140m - North East Line
• $A 110m - Surf Coast rail including Waurn Ponds track doubling
• $A 114m - Warrnambool Line
• $A 91m - Bendigo and Echuca Line
• $A 95m - Avon River Bridge upgrade
• $A 20.2m - Murray Basin freight rail, taking the total federal government commitment to the project to $A 240m, and
• $A 10m - Shepparton Line

The deal also includes work on a $A 30m business case to build a rail link to Melbourne airport, as announced during the Australian federal budget last month. The state government will also contribute $A 150m to the projects, taking overall investment to nearly $A 1.6bn.

“It is going to make an enormous difference to business, to the economy of this state, to bring all of those regional cities closer to Melbourne and Melbourne closer to them,” Turnbull says.

Work on the projects, which are expected to take seven years to complete, is expected to start in the next few months and create more than 1000 jobs.

The announcement concludes a year-long dispute over the allocation of funds from the Port of Melbourne lease sale in 2016.

Victoria announced the regional rail upgrades believing that the federal government would meet the full $A 1.45bn cost from money owed from the lease sale. However, it offered Victoria only $A 877m from the asset-recycling fund, claiming that Victoria had missed a funding application deadline.

Victoria’s premier Mr Daniel Andrews subsequently backed regional rail investment in the state budget but only if it could secure federal support which it felt it was owed. With Turnbull admitting that Victoria needs improved infrastructure, the federal government will now meet the full allocation, although the prime minister said the money will come from the infrastructure fund rather than the asset recycling fund “which has closed.”

“We fought hard for this, because this money belongs to Victorians and we made the judgement that it all belonged to regional Victorians as well,” Andrews says.

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