Snail rail: Minister fires broadside

Heavy machinery is put to use during track maintenance on the railway line west of Wodonga.
Heavy machinery is put to use during track maintenance on the railway line west of Wodonga.

VICTORIA’S Public Transport Minister yesterday slammed the federal government over efforts to fix the railway line to Albury-Wodonga.

Terry Mulder said 150,000 North East residents “deserve” a rail line that allowed trains to operate reliably and at a reasonable speed.

Instead, trains travelled at a “snail-like crawl”.

“The Australian Rail Track Corporation is now spending $134 million — 40 per cent of this in Victoria — in a ballast rehabilitation program, but many speed restrictions remain,” Mr Mulder said.

“Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese must explain to the community whether all the rail speed limits between Melbourne and Albury from poor track quality will be lifted to the normal V/Line operating speed of 115km/h by the end of June next year.”

Mr Mulder was prompted to speak out by the corporation’s recent release of its 2011-12 annual report.

The report revealed the corporation had written down the value of the Melbourne to Sydney line by a further $290.2 million.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is carrying out an investigation into the Melbourne-to-Sydney rail line, with a report due by late February.

The investigation was ordered by Mr Albanese in August last year after a series of incidents on the line.

These included a controller switching a Border-bound V/Line train with 300 people on board onto a closed track.

V/Line’s midday services between Melbourne and Albury have now been changed to bus-only trips in both directions to allow more time for repairs on the line.

Mr Mulder said the corporation’s annual report acknowledged the line needed “to be restored to an acceptable operating condition” and that its own business objectives were compromised by the sub-standard track ballast.

“The disastrous, poor quality conversion of the former broad-gauge rail line from Seymour to Albury was a damning indictment of the federal and then state Labor governments,” he said.

Mr Mulder said that the corporation’s writedown in the track’s value was further evidence of how it and the two governments “got it so badly wrong”.

“I still have not forgotten how — when riding in the locomotive cab between Seymour and Benalla when the Coalition government put the first V/Line back on the tracks — it was the railway version of being on a brumby,” Mr  Mulder said.

He said the former Labor state government contributed $171.3 million to the project, which finished six months late and resulted in “numerous” mud holes developing along the track.

“V/Line trains are having to crawl at 60km/h and 80km/h when they should be able to do a top speed of 115km/h,” he said.

Mr Mulder said the poor condition of the line made maintenance of V/Line’s rolling stock even more difficult.

“The carriages suffer more stresses from the rougher sections of the line.”