The Maryborough to Ararat rail freight line was officially re-opened at Avoca on Monday morning after more than 13 years of sitting idle.
Victorian Major Projects Minister Jacinta Allan joined with federal Wannon MP Dan Tehan and state Ripon MP Louise Staley and Pyrenees Shire mayor David Clark to watch a freight train engine make the first journey since the line was closed in January 21, 2005.
The line was reopened as part of the $440 million Murray Basin Rail Project, a joint initiative between the state and federal governments.
Ms Allan said the region would see significant economic benefits from the rail line reopening while standardising the rail gauge and increasing the load limit.
“It mean we can run more goods from our primary producers in this region giving them access to the ports of this region, whether that is Melbourne, Geelong of Portland,” she said.
“From a local council point of view, this is getting 20,000 trucks off the roads.
“This is a significant and important project for our rail industry, for our local community and our primary producers.”
Mr Tehan said it was fantastic to see the trains return, which would help the grain and mineral sands industries.
“What we see here is state and federal governments working together for local communities and that is vital,” he said.
“We have seen jobs created on this project and it builds on what we have been able to to nationally: 1000 jobs a day created.
“I stayed at a hotel in Maryborough over Christmas and they have had full occupancy as a result of what has been going on here. We are also going to see more jobs in the future as a result of this project.”
Ms Allan said more than 500 people had been working on the line restoration.
“A significant number of those people, about half, have been from the local area,” she said.
“A number of local business have also been able to provide services, whether that is technical or engineering services or hospitality, accommodation or printing services.”
Ms Allan said freight driver training would take place this week along the line.
“Whilst we are celebrating an important milestone for this project, it’s a timely reminder to the local community to now be vary aware and alert that trains will be running along this line for the first time in a long time,” Ms Allan said.
“A huge amount of work has gone into informing the community about the return of trains along this line.”
Mr Tehan, who on Monday morning spoke with a family that lived near one of the new Avoca crossings, said safety was paramount.
“Kids are going back to school this week – people have to stay safe around level crossing and around this rail line now that it is being used,” he said.
“Everyone please take care along this line.”
A V/Line spokesman said the 600,000 man hours had been put into the “massive task” of restoring the disused 87-kilometre rail line over about six months with the help of contractors.
“We’ve changed something like 30,000 sleepers and 200,000 tonnes of ballast,” he said.
“From my perspective, safety has been a priority for us and for V/Line, this is about serving our community.
“We often get thought of as just a passenger railway but we have a large freight business. Essentially, between Ararat and Maryborough, it’s a brand new rail line.
“I’m really proud of what we have achieved.”
The restored rail line also features new automatic lighted and gated rail crossings and 15 new culverts.
The federal government has committed $240.2m and the sate government $199.8 million to fund the Murray Basin Rail Project across western, north western and central Victoria, due for completion this year.
As part of the project, a phased return of of freight services to the Mildura line has begun, with sections of the track progressively opening from south to North.
Deputy Prime Minster and Infrastructure and Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said the Murray Basin’s grain, mineral sands, wine, vegetables ad wine exports would benefit from the project.
“This is an investment in the competitiveness of our ports and freight, and the economy,” he said.