A VICTORIAN Government agreement with Pacific National to buy back the company’s lease on the state’s country rail network for $133.8 million had given the green light to the Wodonga rail bypass by overcoming the project’s biggest hurdle, Transport Minister Peter Batchelor said yesterday.
Premier Steve Bracks announced he had concluded the in-principle agreement Tuesday night allowing his Government to take control of the regional freight network from Pacific National should it be re-elected.
Mr Bracks said the new arrangements would allow for better maintenance of the tracks by the Government and facilitate better access to the network for major rail projects.
Mr Batchelor said the agreement was a crucial initiative for country Victoria and the Government’s most important and largest related project — the rail bypass of Wodonga.
“It has effectively given the green light to the rail bypass overcoming the one stumbling block that the Government did not own the rail network,” he said.
“Among the many hurdles we have had to overcome, this has been the hardest to get across.”
Mr Batchelor said while the State Government was still to come to agreement with the Federal Government in its bid for further money for the bypass project, he remained confident of achieving a “considerable contribution” from the Commonwealth.
“To be fair, the Commonwealth has been sympathetic to our request,” he said.
Mr Batchelor said while the Victorian Government had wanted to finalise a number of design issues prior to lodging its submission with the office of federal Transport Minister Mark Vaile last week, it had also wanted to have the “confidence” of having finalised negotiations with Pacific National.
Labor candidate for Benambra Lisa Mahood said yesterday Mr Bracks’ announcement was not only great news for Wodonga but an important commitment to the entire state.
“For rural and regional Victoria we need rail and to have that asset bought back to the Government is critical,” Ms Mahood said.
She said in every discussion Wodonga council had held with Mr Batchelor related to the Wodonga rail project, he had commented on the difficulty of having Pacific National owning the network lease.
“We fought on regardless and this now makes it so much easier,” she said.
“We’ve been lobbying really hard and they’ve been well aware of that.”
Wodonga council chief executive Peter Marshall said the lease of the Victorian broad gauge system had made it difficult to provide for upgrades.
He said the new agreement would simplify the process that needed to be followed by the state.
“The good news for our region is that it will lead to the conversion of the broad gauge along the North-South corridor to standard gauge,” he said.
“The Federal Government is investigating capacity upgrades along that corridor and this will allow the state to enter an agreement with the Australian Rail Track Corporation and the Federal Government to provide more capacity.”
He said he expected the agreement would also enhance the council’s chances of securing $10 million in Federal AusLink money towards the Logic rail terminal.