UPDATE: Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allen said the governnment had “no plans to stop Gippsland trains at Pakenham and make people transfer”.
GIPPSLAND rail users will face a second rate train service future if Infrastructure Victoria’s Regional Citizen Jury recommendations are adopted by the government.
In a report released July 30, the Citizen Jury recommended Gippsland V/Line services terminate at Pakenham, forcing regional travellers to transfer to Metro trains to continue their journeys to Melbourne.
The report recommends: “Gippsland-Pakenham Rail Shuttle. Provide increased services on the Gippsland line that connect with metropolitan services at Pakenham” (Page 30, Regional Citizen Jury Final Report).
Wellington Shire Council has expressed its strong disappointment with the suggestion.
It argued additional services are desperately called for, but it would not be fair that Gippsland rail passengers would have to change to crowded suburban trains at Pakenham to reach the city.
Wellington Shire mayor Darren McCubbin said the suggestion had no support from Gippsland rail users or communities.
“The current timetable provides for three trains from Gippsland into the city during the peak period; we fully expect this to expand to four next year,” he said.
“But this suggestion of terminating new trains at Pakenham is the thin end of the wedge. This doesn’t happen on any other V/Line corridor. It’s simply not fair to Gippsland.”
“Unlike Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat trains, we have no dedicated track into the city and no investment has been made for new Gippsland stations.
“This suggestion implies we shouldn’t be hopeful of ever getting either.”
Currently a V/Line train from Bairnsdale will take just over an hour to get from Pakenham to Southern Cross Station, however a Metro train will add up to 20 minutes to the journey, not including time spent waiting at Pakenham for the connecting service, which could be up to 15 minutes on the existing timetable.
As well as a lack of reserved seats for busier services, Metro trains lack the luggage facilities required on V/Line trains, such as checked baggage and overhead racks.
Morwell MLA Russell Northe said the recommendation needed to be immediately knocked back by the Labor government to show regional commuters it was serious about providing them with the public transport service they deserved.
“This recommendation needs to be immediately ruled out by the Andrews Labor Government,” Mr Northe said.
“Regional commuters already face lengthy journeys to and from Melbourne each day and a termination of services at Pakenham will only add delay to their trip.”
Other representatives, including Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull and Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, have condemned the proposal.
Mr Chester, who is also federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister, said in a Facebook post he would be disappointed if Victorian ministers were seriously considering the proposal, and would work with them to improve the system.
“While the Australian Government does not have jurisdiction over Victorian state rail operations, I personally do not support the idea of terminating Gippsland V/Line trains at Pakenham,” he wrote.
“Gippsland V/Line users also do not support the proposal, and I call on the Andrews Labor Government to also immediately rule it out.”
It appears from the final report that none of the Regional Citizen Jury members are from Gippsland, with contributors mainly from northern regions.
Already, Facebook groups opposing the idea have emerged, attracting hundreds of vocal supporters.
The report states that a shuttle would relieve “observed crowding issues currently experienced on trains” and “provide improved access to Melbourne”.
It also suggests acquiring larger capacity trains for the Metro system, and opposes a dedicated track for the Gippsland line, citing the cost, while recommending improved rail services to Shepparton and Wangaratta.
In a section advocating improved public transport timetabling, the report states “Provision of essential government services must not discriminate against regional Victorians”.
The Regional Citizen Jury Final Report is available online.