A joint venture has been awarded the contract to revitalise more than 1000km of Victoria’s rail freight network.

The McConnell Dowell Martinus Rail joint venture was awarded the contract for stages two, three and four of the $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project, which is jointly funded by the Australian and Victorian governments.

Construction will begin in July 2017 and will involve the temporary closure of the Maryborough to Yelta and Ouyen to Murrayville sections while the upgrades take place. The project will create more than 400 jobs at peak construction, with at least 15 per cent of this workforce being recruited from the Murray Basin region.

The upgrade will standardise and upgrade the track from broad gauge to standard gauge, increase axle loading from 19 tonnes to 21 tonnes on the network apart from Ouyen to Murrayville line, and begin work to reopen the 87km rail line between Maryborough and Ararat.

The upgrade will allow the Murray Basin region to increase exports to Victoria’s major ports in Portland, Geelong and Melbourne.

Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, said the project will improve Victoria’s rail freight network and provide the Murray Basin area with better rail freight services, increased rail access and greater reliability, and increase the volume of products that can be transported to market.

“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.”

The main project office will be established in Maryborough, with other sites located across the region, including Ararat, Ballarat, Dunolly, Ouyen and Mildura.

The Sea Lake and Manangatang lines will remain open during this time so freight operators can use these as an option to move grain and other produce using rail.

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

Works for stage two, three and four are expected to be completed in 2018.

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