DEPUTY Prime Minister Michael McCormack has put a major stamp on the infrastructure portfolio in unlocking another $135 million for the North-East line as part of a regional rail deal with the Victorian government.
After intense lobbying from the Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan and a horror three-month period on the Albury to Melbourne corridor, Mr McCormack convinced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, among others, to make the extra investment on top of the $100 million announced nearly a year ago.
The federal government has signed Victoria up to a deal on inland rail and in return has received $1.7 billion for regional rail which includes the additional commitment for the troubled North-East rail line.
“It is fantastic news that has been fought hard for by the Nationals here in North-East Victoria,” Mr McCormack said in his first visit to Wodonga since becoming deputy prime minister.
“The fact we’ve been able to sign Victoria up to the inter-governmental agreement for inland rail is important, but this was always an objective.
“I got it through where I needed to last week after a chat with the Prime Minister and Treasurer (Scott Morrison).
"We don’t have $135 million to throw here, there and everywhere and the project had to stack up.”
Mr McCormack said he expected Victoria to uphold its commitment to upgrading the rolling stock once the track was fixed.
“We take that in good faith,” he said.
Australian Rail Track Corporation chief John Fullerton also made the trip to Wodonga for the announcement.
Mr McCormack said he backed ARTC to fix the track once and for all with the additional cash.
“I have got every faith in the ARTC to do the work required,” he said.
“There were issues, I appreciate, with this particular section last time, I’ve spoken with ARTC, and I’ve got every faith they will do the job.”
Mr Fullerton welcomed the additional investment and conceded the $100 million would have been a “very good start” in improving the reality and ride quality on the line.
“The $100 million was doing a scope of works that was a pathway to the full scope required,” he said.
“It would have made a significant improvement, but it wasn’t enough and this announcement means we can complete the job.
“We had some very long speed restrictions back in 2010-11 and extensive areas of mud holes.
"A lot of them have been removed.
"I acknowledge that to get the track to another level of performance and improve that reliability and ride quality we need to do this work.
“The initial work did achieve some significant improvement and this will complete the job.”
Mr Fullerton, who recently appeared at a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra and refused to reveal what he thought would be required to bring the North-East line up to a class two standard track to run VLocity trains, declined to put a timeframe on the works.
“There could be works we can do quickly and there will be works that will take longer,” he said.
“It could be an 18-month to two year exercise.
“We want to do it as quick as we can, but we also want to do it right.”
Also joining Mr McCormack and Mr Fullerton at the Wodonga announcement were Senator Bridget McKenzie and Wodonga mayor Anna Speedie.
Mr McCormack recently took over the infrastructure and transport portfolio from the man he replaced as Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce.