The original project, jointly funded by the federal and state governments, was intended to convert the 1600mm-gauge freight network in state’s northwest to 1435mm-gauge, and increase axleloads from 19 to 21 tonnes.

The new plan scraps gauge standardisation of the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines, which will remain 1600mm gauge. Conversion of the Maryborough - Ararat, Murrayville and Yelta lines has already been completed.

The Murray Basin is one of the most productive agricultural areas in the state and the gauge conversion was originally expected to enable better access to export ports for farmers in the region.

Under the revised plan, the Victorian government will contribute $A 48m of additional funding and will ask the federal government to chip in a further $A 195.2m.

The revised business case also proposes:

  • re-railing the Maryborough - Ararat line to improve journey times and increase axleloads to 21 tonnes.
  • add new passing loops, as well as new or upgraded sidings at Maryborough, Donald and Merbein, and
  • install new sleepers on sections of the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines, the Mildura - Yelta line and Ouyen Murrayville line to increase speeds, as well as structural assessments to see what works are required to introduce 134-tonne locomotives.

The re-railing of the Maryborough - Ararat line, originally converted in 2017, is necessary because of a speed restriction imposed on the line after some of the 100-year-old broad-gauge track was recycled and re-laid as standard gauge.

Victorian transport infrastructure minister, Ms Jacinta Allen, said that the original business case was deficient in several ways, including underestimating the cost.

The revised business plan follows a rejected request by the Victorian government for additional funding for the project in its Federal Budget submission, a decision described by Allen as “disappointing”.

Federal infrastructure minister, Mr Michael McCormack, says the Australian government had “already committed more than $A 240m to this Victorian-owned and operated asset,” and that it had been the Victorian government's responsibility to deliver the project.