Mildura solicitor John Irwin.

By VINNIE RODI

TWO prominent Mildura identities are championing the cause to make the long-touted transcontinental rail link between Mildura and Broken Hill a reality.

Mildura businessman Ross Lake and solicitor John Irwin believe that with a Federal Election looming, now is the time to proceed with the project – first mooted in 1913.

They are calling for $10million in Federal Government funding to be put towards a bankable feasibility study to investigate, and confirm, the project’s economic benefits.

“This transcontinental link is of national importance and yet is ignored,” Mr Irwin said. “The big winners – Geelong, Ballarat, Mildura and Broken Hill – all have sitting Members representing all major political parties, yet none has the courage or foresight to promote this project.

“In the Treasurer’s recent budget speech he announced grants totalling $40million for feasibility studies for four upgraded passenger rail services including Shepparton to Melbourne, with no provision for freight rail,” he said. “Money has also been promised for Geelong and Sovereign Hill, yet no-one is talking about this project.

“In 2018, the Victorian Labor Government completed the standardisation link from Geelong to Mildura. This now presents the opportunity to complete the national rail grid, laid out in 1913, connecting Mildura to Broken Hill, while creating a seamless pathway from Geelong, Ballarat and Mildura to Darwin and Perth, and from Broken Hill to Melbourne.

“Our region is Australia’s pre-eminent food bowl – the Murray-Darling Basin. This link opens up our market for grain, nuts, wines, fresh fruit and vegetables to a south-east Asian market comprising 500 million people.

“I am also acutely aware of the level of anxiety and depression in our community, and the building of this line would have an immediate impact on the psyche of all country people.

“For no other reason this factor alone justifies this rail link. Our mental health is paramount.”

Mr Irwin said that in his opinion, the $10million currently set aside to investigate a Shepparton rail link, and the benefits that would flow, paled in comparison to the completed transcontinental link.

He also indicated that 50 percent of the funds needed to undertake the bankable feasibility study would be sourced from the private sector. 

“When it comes to Shepparton, the anticipated cost is $350-$400million,” he said. “The benefit of this project is to save commuters 30 to 40 minutes of travel time (between Melbourne and Geelong).

“Compare this to a transcontinental line, which includes Mildura, and the benefits are many.

“While the anticipated cost would be $950million – less contribution from public/private partnerships – the benefits are numerous.”

These benefits include:

• Removal of 24 railway crossings (Mildura), and opening up the riverfront to the Murray.

• Creating one of Australia’s largest intermodal transport hubs, creating employment and training boosting at La Trobe and SuniTAFE.

• Creating opportunities for the Indigenous population in building line and tourism.

• Presenting opportunities to establish a passenger rail service from Geelong to Broken Hill which accommodates a passenger service for residents of Mildura and Broken Hill and passengers between Mildura and Geelong.

• Ninety-three percent of Australians reached by rail within 24 hours.

• Improving national defence and security.

• Reducing carbon emissions.

• Alternative rail pathway in the event of natural disasters, accidents, earthquakes or sabotage to the existing pathways.

“Could the message be any clearer?” Mr Irwin said. “Do the remoter regional cities of Australia count for nothing?”

Mr Irwin said that a lot of the archeological and geographical work needed to complete the Mildura to Broken Hill section of the line had already been undertaken during construction of the $500million Wentworth to Broken Hill pipeline.

He added that by removing 24 railway crossings between Mildura and Red Cliffs, the seeds for a work-class linear corridor for cyclists and walkers would also be sown.

Mr Irwin said that it was now vital that candidates vying for the seat of Mallee support the concept.

“They need to get on board as this project has the potential to change Mildura forever,” he said. “How much longer do we have to wait?

“Which of the 13 candidates currently vying for Mallee will recognise this rail link as a major part of their political platform?”

Mr Irwin said that he had already forwarded the proposal to the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, saying that he believed an opportunity exists to make the project “an election game-changer in Victoria.”

Mr Irwin said that he has also been in discussions with a major UK-based project developer, who recently completed the Roy Hill rail line, who has identified the transcontinental link as a potential project if the bankable feasibility study returns positive figures.

“If a bankable feasibility study is announced… local wheat farmers will be ecstatic, as it provides them with access to grain markets in south-east Asia by rail via Darwin,” he said.