Lib-Nats: $633m for new trains

THE state Liberal and Nationals Coalition has promised to spend $633 million to build new trains for all long-haul lines, including the Bairnsdale line, if elected in November.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said Sale and Wellington Shire would be big beneficiaries of the first renewal of long-haul trains since the 1980s.

He and Nationals counterpart, Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull, say the new trains will improve conditions for passengers, and make Gippsland a more attractive destination for visitors and new residents.

The new, Victorian-made long-haul trains will be variants of the successful VLocity trains already running on the Traralgon line.

Mr O’Brien said Sale and Wellington Shire passengers had been putting up with trains that broke down and air conditioning that didn’t work.

“The 16 new, six-carriage sets will be capable of travelling up to 160kmh, and the first units will roll off the production line in 2021,” he said.

Mr Bull said new rolling stock would also benefit passengers from Heyfield, Maffra and Stratford, as well as those in east Gippsland.

“The new trains will be quicker, getting passengers to Melbourne faster, more [reliably] and have greater carrying capacity to meet increasing demand,” he said.

“Currently the four carriage sets carry around 282 passengers, but these six carriage sets will have seats for 444.

“With air conditioning that will work and modern buffet facilities, travelling to and from Melbourne will be a much more enjoyable experience.”

Mr Bull said it was also the intention to have the trains built in Victoria, saying this would create hundreds of construction jobs.

“In line with the relatively recent track improvement investments announced by Federal Nationals MP, Darren Chester, I look forward to significant improvements across the board when it comes to rail service punctuality and trip quality,” Mr Bull said.

Mr O’Brien, who chairs the Coalition’s Population Policy Taskforce, is working on decentralisation policy, and said this was the first step in The Nationals plan to revolutionise regional rail.

“There’s plenty more to be done and we’ll have more to say about other Gippsland rail infrastructure and service needs ahead of this year’s election,” he added.

The announcement came as the state government called on the federal government to release Victoria’s Regional Rail Revival funding so work could begin on projects.

In December, the state Labor government had in-principle agreement from then Infrastructure Minister, Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, for the $1.57 billion of funding to be delivered.

Since then there has been a Federal Nationals leadership change and cabinet reshuffles, and the money has stalled.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the recent “chaos” coming out of Canberra had meant Victoria was yet to receive funding to deliver upgrades to every regional rail line throughout the state.

“… it’s time they sign the deal, deliver the money …” she said.

The state government has described the Regional Rail Revival program as “a once-in-a-generation investment” which will not only deliver major upgrades to every regional passenger line in Victoria, but also create more than 1000 jobs.

Planning and defining the scope of works has already begun, and the Victorian Government has submitted project proposals to the Commonwealth for the release of funding on the first stage of Regional Rail Revival works packages.

The first stage of works include planning and development funding across the program, to get future packages of works ready for market on the Gippsland, Geelong, Warrnambool and Ballarat lines, and early works on the Gippsland line to upgrade level crossings and undertake critical preparatory works.

Eastern Victoria MLC Harriet Shing said Gippsland commuters were “fed up with losing out because of the chaos in Canberra and the Coalition’s refusal to pay its debts to Victoria”.

“We’re ready to go with the much-needed upgrades and improvements to the line that will give Gippsland passengers better and more reliable services,” she said.

“The Andrews Labor Government is ready to get on with the job of delivering these important upgrades for regional travellers .

“We just need the New South Wales-obsessed federal government to pay its debt to Victoria and release the money.”