A joint venture of McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail has been selected for stages 2, 3 and 4 of the Murray Basin Rail Project (Photo: Henry Owen).

AUSTRALIA: A contract for regauging and upgrading more than 1 000 route-km of railway serving the Murray Basin region was announced on June 26 by Federal Minister for Infrastructure & Transport Darren Chester and Victoria’s Acting Minister for Public Transport Luke Donnellan.

A joint venture of McConnell Dowell and Martinus Rail has been selected as the winning bidder for stages 2, 3 and 4 of the A$440m Murray Basin Rail Project, which is being jointly funded by the national and state governments.

A five-month blockade starting in August will see the lines from Maryborough to Mildura and Murrayville converted from 1 600 to 1 435 mm gauge. The Sea Lake and Manangatang branches will remain open as an alternative route, before being converted during a second blockade from March 2018.

Axleloads will be increased from 19 to 21 tonnes on all routes apart from the Ouyen – Murrayville branch. The mothballed 87 km standard gauge line between Maryborough and Ararat will also be reopened to provide a direct link between the Murray Basin and the port of Portland.

The upgrade is expected to allow a greater proportion of Murray Basin exports to reach the ports of Portland, Geelong and Melbourne by rail. ‘There will be huge benefits to the Australian economy, with the project supporting an increase in competition between the three ports and operators of freight trains and increasing export volumes to overseas markets’, said Chester. Donnellan added that ‘this project will create more than 400 jobs at peak construction, with at least 15% of the workforce being recruited from the Murray Basin region.’

The contractors are expected to establish their project office in Maryborough, with work sites located in Ararat, Ballarat, Dunolly, Ouyen and Mildura.

The first stage of the programme was completed in 2016, with the installation of 175 000 sleepers and 3400 m of new rail on the Mildura and Hopetoun lines.