Mildura Line

Group calls for resumption of passenger services to Mildura

The North-West Rail Alliance has called for the restoration of passenger services to Mildura.

President of the Alliance, Chris Mitchell, said that smaller project such as this have a large benefit.

“There are a number of smaller projects that could benefit Victorians. The restoration of passenger rail services to Mildura, should be a high priority for the [Victorian] government. More than 100,000 people in Central and Northern Victoria would benefit from this train service.”

Passenger trains last ran to Mildura in 1993, and have been the subject of election commitments since then. Recently, the Mildura line from Maryborough was upgraded to standard gauge as part of the Murray Basin Rail Project, enabling further improvements to allow passenger services said Mitchell.

“With the completion of the Mildura to Maryborough standard gauge rail link, a shuttle service could run from Mildura every day and connect with the existing V/Line service at Maryborough. A minimal amount of work is required on the line and a number of level crossings need to be upgraded.”

Mitchell also noted that frequent passenger services would ensure the line remains in good condition for the benefit of freight services.

“Further, the restoration of passenger services on the Mildura line would ensure a higher standard of maintenance is maintained and this will guarantee producers and growers from the Mallee the maximum efficiency and best cost structure for freight services to Melbourne and the ports.”

According to a Victorian Department of Transport spokesperson, said that the state is reviewing current services.

“We continually review our public transport networks to make sure we are delivering the services to get Victorians where they need to go,” said the spokesperson.

“V/Line operates more than 50 coach services a week to or from Mildura, via either Donald and Ballarat, or Swan Hill and Bendigo. Some services also connect with other coach routes to enable onward travel for passengers between Mildura and both Albury and Geelong.”

In 2019, the Mildura Rural City Council, along with Swan Hill, Gannawarra, Buloke, Balranald, Wentworth, and Murray River councils released the Central Murray Regional Transport Strategy. The strategy proposed the North West Passenger Transport Study to provide an evidence-base for future transport needs in the region, including passenger rail. The Council expects the study to be completed by mid-2021.

Swan Hill Rural City Council Mayor Ann Young said at the time that the strategy will enable the region to lobby for further improvements.

“The projects, ideas and priorities in this new strategy will be used to advocate and plan for improved transport infrastructure and connectivity within our region.”

Mildura Rural City Council general manager community Martin Hawson said that returning passenger rail to the city was key.

“Advocating for the return of passenger rail services to the Mildura region is one of four initiatives in Council’s Mildura Future Ready (MFR) advocacy and funding strategy.”

Hawson said the early work on the strategy had already found positive from a passenger link.

“While the full Regional Passenger Transport Study is yet to be completed, early discussions with key stakeholders has identified four key overarching benefits resulting from better passenger transport services. They include: stronger community with improved social connectivity and liveability; improved economic growth and diversity of the North West; enhanced regional decentralisation through population growth and dispersal; and attraction and retention of skilled and unskilled labour force.”

Murray Basin Rail Project has run out of steam

The $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project needs urgent assistance to help complete the half-finished upgrades, according to the Rail Freight Alliance (RFA).

It’s been more than six months since the Victorian Government acknowledged the project had run out of funding. An Auditor General’s report is due next month to conduct a thorough review and investigation of the upgrade.

The RFA is calling on the state government to quickly fund the rest of the Murray Basin Rail Project.

Reid Mather, RFA chief executive officer said he is exceptionally disappointed at the current status of the project that is still yet to meet the scope of stage 2 that was due for completion in 2018.

Mather says the entire project will have to start from scratch and revisit stage 1 and 2.

“There is now a big slab of rail lines in Victoria that are exceptionally wrong due to underwhelming upgrades,” he said.

The completion of stage one, which began five years ago, included carrying out essential maintenance works across 3,400m of rail and roughly 130,000 sleepers in the Mildura freight line between Yelta and Maryborough.

The entire project is intended to convert parts of the Victorian freight rail network’s historical broad gauge to the standard gauge used in most other parts of Australia to enable tracks to have a higher axle loads for more efficient intrastate freight transfer.

However Mather claims that operators are saying that the network is slower than ever before.

Mather said Mildura to Melbourne was previously a 12 hour direct route before the upgrade project. In stage one, 30km of stabling was removed which now requires trains to route around Ararat and Geelong – now 17 hours a journey from Mildura to Melbourne.

“It is unacceptable. There is now a reduced capacity and uncertainty,” Mather said. 

Rail Projects Victoria is reported to be the organisation to carry out the review.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser that the review would determine the most cost-effective outcomes of any future spending and make recommendations on the way forward.

“The Murray Basin Rail Project is delivering better, more efficient freight services for Victoria and continues to be a key project for the Victorian and Australian governments,” the DoT spokesman told the Ararat Advertiser.

“The project has already seen freight trains return to the Mildura and Murrayville to Ouyen lines with standard gauge access, and to the Maryborough to Ararat line, which has been reopened after 15 years,

“We know how vital this project is for our regional communities and the Victorian Government is working with the Federal Government to review the Murray Basin Rail Project business case, to jointly determine the best way forward.”

The state government last year announced the remaining $23m of the $440m federal and state money set aside for the project would go on urgent repairs to the Manangatang line and a new business case.

A spokeswoman for Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said a business case would be handed to the federal authorities by early to mid-2020.

Mather said the window for getting federal budget funding, to complete the project, was rapidly closing and requires urgent attention from state and federal officials.

“Works were meant to be completed by 2018 and certainly won’t be starting this year. The current network is in grid lock and it’s time to get the bones right,” Mather said.

“It’s all in the [government’s] hands.”