THE Australian and Victorian governments last week signed a Bilateral Agreement in relation to Inland Rail, making Victoria the first state to sign up to the 1,700-kilometre Inland Rail project – the largest freight rail infrastructure project in Australia.
The agreement includes a commitment to negotiate a new long-term lease with the Australian Rail Track Corporation and to support the extension of the corridor to accommodate any changes to the North East Rail Line alignment required to support the delivery of Inland Rail.
On completion, the Inland Rail Project will create a direct rail freight connection between Melbourne and Brisbane capable of moving double stacked freight containers. Inland Rail is expected to deliver almost $7 billion in additional state gross product through construction and in the first 50 years of operation.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Michael McCormack described the agreement as "a great step forward on a project that will create jobs and investment opportunities throughout regional Victoria."
"I'm pleased to reach agreement with Victoria, the first state to get behind Inland Rail which will improve freight travel times for local farmers and producers and support thousands of jobs," Mr McCormack said.
"Once complete, Inland Rail will create thousands of jobs nationwide and return $16 billion to the national economy during the delivery phase and the first 50 years of operation."
While the Inland Rail Project is a freight project, both governments acknowledge the North East Rail Line is currently used for both passenger and freight services and that this mixed use is intended to continue.
Now an agreement on Inland Rail has been reached, money for the $1.7 billion Regional Rail Revival program will begin to be delivered to Victoria. The project will deliver major upgrades to every regional passenger line in Victoria.
Planning and defining the scope of works has already begun, and the Victorian and Australian governments have reached agreement on the first stage of works, with some work already underway.
As part of the Regional Rail Revival program, a joint Victorian Government and Commonwealth Government steering committee was established to look at the work needed to upgrade the North East Line. The steering committee resolved the $100 million committed was not enough to upgrade the track to run new modern trains, therefore the Commonwealth Government will contribute an additional $135 million to upgrade the track to at least a class 2 standard.
Victorian Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan thanked the Deputy Prime Minister for acting quickly to release the funds.
"I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for acting quickly, so we can now get on with the job of upgrading track, stations and signalling throughout regional Victoria, to run modern trains and get people home sooner," Ms Allan said.
"I am also pleased that in addition to the $1.57 billion Regional Rail Revival package, the Commonwealth will increase its contribution by $135 million to upgrade the North East Rail Line to a class 2 standard to allow faster, modern trains and give communities along the North East line the services they expect and deserve."
The Victorian Government has committed to purchase new trains for the corridor once works on the track are complete.