Victoria’s North East Rail Line Upgrade has been fast-tracked for completion, after works were accelerated due to the New South Wales and Victoria border closures.

Passenger trains will return to the improved line on Tuesday 1 December after the border reopens, and the works are expected to be finished well ahead of time in mid-2021.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, said the Australian Rail Track Corporation and its main construction works contractor, John Holland Group, were able to accelerate their program during the border closure.

“The Australian Government is investing $244 million in the package of works to improve this major rail corridor and we’re now more than three-quarters of the way through construction thanks to the great progress we’ve made while trains weren’t running,” Mr McCormack said.

“We continue to roll out this type of project nationwide under our $110 billion infrastructure pipeline, which is laying the foundation for economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Major construction on the North East Rail Line Upgrade started earlier this year, with more than 300km of tamping, mud hole removal works and drainage reinstatement now finished.

The project will also include works to upgrade an additional 20 more rail bridges than previously foreshadowed, and renewing track turnouts at Seymour and Violet Town to improve ride quality and reduce delays for passengers on the line.

Victorian Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan, said the work would make journeys on the line more comfortable and reliable and passengers would see further benefits when VLocity trains start travelling on the line.

“The Victorian Government is investing in more comfortable VLocity trains, which will run on the line for the first time once our massive upgrade is complete and the trains have been tested to guarantee safety for all passengers,” Ms Allan said.

“Locals will see the benefits of our accelerated works as soon as trains return to the line, with track upgrades delivering more comfortable, reliable services straight away.”

Federal Finance Minister, Simon Birmingham, said the Australian Government, through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, would continue to back vital rail upgrades to boost services and generate economic activity across regional Australia.

“This is about keeping Australia moving and creating more jobs, with around 100 ongoing jobs created through the North East Rail Line upgrade,” Mr Birmingham said.

“Our investment in regional rail is boosting opportunities for local businesses including in design, construction and project management, while delivering lasting benefits for rail passengers and freight operators.”

Senator for Victoria, Jane Hume, praised the work done to get the project to this stage.

‘The works on the North East Rail Line have come a long way since the original $235 million commitment was made in March 2018 by the Australian Government,” Senator Hume said.

“This has been about making the best of a bad situation for Victorians during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I congratulate the Australian Rail Track Corporation for their successful efforts.”

Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, said the construction team had forged ahead with critical track works to help make services on the North East Rail Line more reliable and improve ride quality for passengers.

‘The works are delivering these benefits sooner than expected and we’re well on track to complete construction by mid-next year,” Senator McKenzie said.

“More than 80 level crossings have been renewed and more than 50 rail bridges have been upgraded, giving passengers a smoother ride.”

“This will allow some temporary speed restrictions to be removed on the line, making services more reliable for passengers.”

Federal Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, said the upgrades formed part of the $2 billion Regional Rail Revival Package (RRRP), which is upgrading every regional passenger train line in the State and boosting the local economy.

“The RRRP includes upgrades to stations, traffic signals and tracks on multiple rail corridors across regional Victoria,” Mr Drum said.

“The upgrade to the North East Rail Line will deliver benefits for Nicholls commuters travelling to and from Seymour.

“The program gives regional cities and towns the necessary infrastructure to support more reliable and frequent transport services to increase the liveability and attractiveness of regional Victoria.”

State Member for Northern Victoria, Jaclyn Symes, said passengers on the line would reap the rewards of the improvements.

“This upgrade will provide more modern trains for residents and visitors travelling to our great region – after a challenging year for the North East,” Ms Symes said.

“I hope it encourages more Victorians to get on a train to explore our part of the state.

“The Victorian Government is also investing $20 million in supporting infrastructure upgrades required to run new standard gauge VLocity trains for the North East Rail Line – the first of their kind in Victoria.”

Rail Projects Victoria and the Department of Transport have started work on six level crossings on the line, with two recently closed, boosting safety for passengers and motorists, while others will be either enhanced or upgraded to feature boom gates, lights and bells.

The Victorian Government has also funded $20 million in upgrades to Donnybrook and Wallan stations as part of its ongoing investment in the North East Rail Line.

An additional $10 million in joint Australian and Victorian Government funding will deliver critical upgrades to train stabling at Albury Station for the stabling of VLocity trains, bringing the total combined infrastructure investment in the North East rail corridor to $285 million. Separate to this funding, the Victorian Government is investing in more comfortable VLocity trains for the North East Rail Line.

V/Line coaches will begin servicing Albury Station from Monday 23 November 2002, when Victorians can again cross the New South Wales border, ahead of trains returning on 1 December.

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