My matter is for the Minister for Transport Infrastructure.
It’s about the Murray Basin Rail Project – a topic about which I often speak here, given its importance especially to the agriculture and transport industries in Northern Victoria.
On this occasion, I raise it amid what is unfortunately white-hot anger among many key stakeholders and other interested constituents of mine.
These people have been exasperated for a long time, particularly since the stalling of the project in 2019.
There was some better news in recent months, with the announcements that the Federal Government would contribute around another $200 million and the Victorian Government around another $48 million in order to restart parts of the project.
However, the exasperation and anger has re-emerged again this week. This is because it has become apparent (particularly through an article by Stock & Land’s Andrew Miller) that the Government has approved the use, for most or all of the new work, of non-gauge convertible sleepers.
There is also growing concern that no standardising will occur on the Sea Lake and Manangatang lines.
Clearly, any decision not to use gauge convertible sleepers will generally compromise standardisation not just now but also in the future as well – as this would necessitate a costly double handling exercise entailing the removal and replacement of all non-gauge convertible sleepers.
For many people with an interest in the Murray Basin Rail Project, these developments are puzzling and demoralising.
Worse still, for some of them, this will potentially scuttle further involvement for them in this project or indeed other projects dependent on it.
Among these people are many very serious investors in agriculture and transport. They include the proponents of the critical Ouyen Intermodal project – an initiative which would play a vital role in shifting, to rail, about half to two-thirds of the around 80% of the current volume of intermodal freight that is transported by road. This project would generate multiple economic and social benefits, including creating around 90 full-time jobs, lowering carbon emissions, and reducing road maintenance costs, trauma and congestion from Northern Victoria right into Melbourne and its suburbs.
In light of all of this, <President>, the action I seek is clarification of why, as the already-very-troubled work on the Murray Basin Rail Project resumes, gauge convertible sleepers are not being used. I seek that clarity especially given that this decision will make the absolutely crucial objective of track standardisation (including around Sea Lake and Manangatang) much more elusive not just in the immediate term but also well into the future.