TRAIN services are well and truly in the spotlight in the lead up to November’s state election, with both major parties throwing money and promises at regional rail.
As the state government’s half-billion-dollar Regional Rail Revival package continued to roll out along the Gippsland line, the Coalition announced an $8 million plan to examine a dedicated Gippsland line into the city, if elected.
The Liberal Nationals have pledged to complete a business case for a new, separate line that would avoid suburban stations.
Attacking the “Skyrail” level crossings removals in a media release, the Coalition labelled works as “rushed” and “ill-conceived”, “constrain(ing) potential future improvement options”.
Instead, its the business case would help provide “better rail services”.
The Coalition has previously committed $633 million for new trains across the regional network.
Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said he had been calling on the Labor Government for the past four years to at least investigate the options for a dedicated line, but it had point-blank refused.
“If a dedicated link is good enough for Labor to pursue for Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, why not Gippsland?” he asked.
“I’ve been working with my own colleagues on this policy announcement, and it’s a great step to fixing our local train services.”
Nationals candidate for Morwell, Sheridan Bond, said she understood locals’ frustration with the upgrade works and unreliable transport, which was often delayed — only 48.1 per cent of services from Bairnsdale were on time in June.
“Morwell and Traralgon passengers are sick and tired of the constant delays, constant cancellations and being forced onto replacement bus services,” she said.
“I understand the frustration of our community only too well, and that’s why we’re going to investigate the best options for improvements to make sure our rail commuters get where they need to be, when they need to be there, without delays.”
Labor Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said voters should remember similar Coalition announcements for the Rowville, Doncaster and Avalon dedicated lines, and ask what happened to those proposals, and to keep in mind the Coalition’s promise for extra rail to Frankston.
“They claim (Skyrail)’s constrained a future line, but in reality, if we had delivered trenched solutions in the rail corridor between Oakleigh and the city — that wouldn’t have made the corridor any wider and would have made adding an extra line more expensive,” she said.
“Anyone who’s been on that line knows the corridor is very narrow regardless of treatment.
“Sit that alongside earlier thought bubbles regarding a tunnel from Pakenham to city, in excess of $40 billion — we know that will never happen.
“This $8 million for planning won’t result in any change under a Coalition government — in essence, they’ll be throwing more planning money away in exactly the same way they did with Rowville.”
Ms Shing also pointed out newer VLocity trains would begin travelling to Bairnsdale later this month, and work on signal upgrades and overtaking loops was underway.
Non-partisan lobby group Gippsland V/Line Users Group convenor Natalie Thorne welcomed the business case funding, and said having a commitment to finding a solution was needed.
“I’m thrilled; it’s a huge step forward,” she said.
“We’ve been waiting for either side of politics to make this level of commitment.
“I’ve been concerned the government was going to wait another 10 or 15 years, so to have a commitment to investigate possible options means we might be able to start something in three to five years.”
The argument came as Public Transport Victoria revealed the latest performance results.
In July, only 49.3 per cent of trains between Melbourne and Rosedale, Sale and Bairnsdale arrived on time, well below the target of 92 per cent.
It was, however, a slight improvement from June (48.4 per cent).
For reliability, 98.6 per cent of Bairnsdale line services arrived within 11 minutes of the scheduled time, up from the 93 per cent of the previous month.
Trains between Traralgon and Melbourne had a punctuality of 77.7 per cent and reliability (arriving within six minutes of the scheduled time) of 97.2 per cent. – with David Braithwaite