Room for improvement for rail

RELATED: State budget unveiled

COMMENT

EVERY year, governments at all levels use their annual budgets to proudly boast projects and services they’ll undertake over the next 12 months.

Governments often use catchy slogans to sell their budget.

Last week, the Victorian government in its budget media releases reminded us it was ‘getting it done’.

However, the state budget highlighted one thing the government needs to ‘get done’ in Gippsland, improve rail services.

The government proudly announced it would spend $1.3 billion on regional public transport.

There will be more than 170 off-peak V/Line services added to the schedule.

Gippsland’s share of that?

Two return services between Melbourne and Traralgon.

If the number of extra services was a cake, we’d barely get a crumb.

The good news: the budget includes mention of a business case being developed for major upgrades to deliver extra services and more reliability on the Gippsland line.

Hopes are high the $1.6 billion sky rail project, removing nine level crossings on the Pakenham line with elevated stretches of track, will play a major role in relieving commuter frustration.

Gippsland trains share the Pakenham line with Metro services.

Sky rail is set to be built so third and fourth tracks can be laid in the future, allowing V/Line and Metro services to run without impeding each other.

The Victorian Transport Action Group, made up of some of the state’s leading transport experts, last year called for the Pakenham line to be widened to four tracks.

Duplication of the Pakenham line would provide the scope for more passenger and freight trains to run through the region, giving some hope to those pushing for more than the three return passenger services east of Traralgon.

People who can’t, or don’t wish to, drive need access to reliable and regular public transport to make appointments and meetings in Melbourne.

Look to the other side of Melbourne for what’s possible.

Began by the Brumby Labor government, and followed through on by successive governments, the $3.65 billion Regional Rail Link through the city’s west gives dedicated track to regional services to and from Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

As if services on the other side of the state didn’t need more of a boost, last week’s budget had funds to duplicate the Ballarat line from Deer Park to Melton.

Back to the good news for Gippsland: there will be $9 million spent on upgrading stations between Moe and Bairnsdale.

The “classic fleet” will be upgraded, with air-conditioning to be fixed. V/Line had found that AC on carriages can’t cope when the mercury hits 36 degrees.

Considering the troubles which have plagued Gippsland services in recent months, that is a good start.

But there is certainly more that can be done.

Hopes of the Stratford rail bridge being upgraded over the next 12 months were dashed. Speed restrictions have been put in place so the 126-year-old bridge can cope with heavy locomotives.

We can push for more and better services, but will they be used?

With the Princes Highway between Sale and Traralgon being duplicated, will even more people continue the current practice of driving to Traralgon for the 20 rail services a day compared to the three train and four bus services offered to Sale and Stratford residents? Or will they instead continue driving to Melbourne without being hindered by a timetable?

Will the horse have bolted by the time the efficiency and level of rail services improve?