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Senate estimates reveal Albury line requires a multi-million dollar fix up to accommodate inland rail

The Border Mail, 28 February 2017
The Department of Infrastructure has conceded there will be a “considerable cost” to improve the Albury line if it is to cope with a new inland rail route. Appearing before Senate estimates in Canberra this week, the department’s secretary Mike Mrdak gave the first indication of work needed on a rail line not up to scratch.

He would not put a dollar figure on works to increase height clearance and accommodate double-stacking on heavy freight trains.

But Mr Mrdak did not deny a suggestion from Greens Senator Janet Rice it could be “considerably upwards” of the $134 million already spent on the ballast rehabilitation program over recent years.

“If there had to be a rebuild of particularly some of the sub-grade material under the track then there would be quite a considerable cost,” he said. “The reality is there is some concern about the condition of the track, Albury to Melbourne, and there is future proofing work required for double-stacking, which is still under design and review by the ARTC.”

The Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail project was being designed to accommodate more modern interstate freight trains, but Mr Mrdak said the standard-gauge rail on the Albury line was in poor condition and may not allow extra train loads to run efficiently.

Senator Rice quizzed Department of Infrastructure representatives following discussions with the Border Rail Action Group, who she said did not believe the ballast rehabilitation program provided the solutions promised for the line.

“We’ve got quite extensive speed restrictions in place,” she said

“Given the extra impact on the rail, there would be a need to do extra work.”

The department’s rail and intermodal general manager Richard Wood initially denied any extra money would need to be spent to improve the track for inland freight.

“It’s meeting the lease obligations (with the Victorian government), it’s meeting it’s requirements at the moment,” he said.

“Freight operators are actually moving to rail, which would indicate it is meeting their requirements.”

Mr Mrdak said work required on the Albury line had not been budgeted for in the inland rail project, but would come under the ARTC’s capital investment program.