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A state parliamentary committee will investigate the viability of reinstating a rail passenger service between Mount Gambier and Adelaide.
Civic, tourism and political leaders yesterday welcomed the inquiry, which will canvass the possibility of introducing rail passenger services to several regional centres.
It is understood a viable passenger service will hinge on the future of the $1.5 billion Penola Pulp Mill, which has signed an agreement with the State Government to reopen the abandoned South East network for freight.
The government has earmarked more than $10m to standardise the ageing South East network.
Member for Mount Gambier and Cabinet Minister Rory McEwen told The Border Watch yesterday the return of passenger rail services was “certainly possible” if the Penola Pulp Mill used rail for freight.
“A passenger rail service won’t work if it is standalone, but could be viable as a consequence of the Penola Pulp Mill,” Mr McEwen said.
But he said Mount Gambier City Council would need to consider a bus/rail terminal on the city’s north-west fringe to draw trains away from the city centre.
The inquiry into re-establishing passenger trains to Mount Gambier was sparked following a fresh call by Dennis Hood MLC in State Parliament earlier this year.
Mr Hood’s policy advisor Nick Greer said yesterday a move to return rail to Mount Gambier was gaining momentum.
“The big thing is that all the metropolitan lines have been standardised and the Penola Pulp Mill is talking about operating the Penola line. So all which will be left is the little bit between Mount Gambier and Penola to standardise,” Mr Greer said.
“With all this happening, there is no reason why we can’t have it, if that’s what we want.”
He said the South East rail network closed in the early 1990s because its broad gauge network was left stranded as other lines were standardised across the state.
“A rail line would help pensioners, the disabled, the blind, families battling high petrol costs, as well as provide safer travel for people than road and would help with greenhouse gases,” Mr Greer said.
Meanwhile, Grant District Council chief executive Russell Peate said his council was expected to discuss the proposal “formally” at last night’s full meeting.
“The rail would potentially be a great benefit for Mount Gambier and its surrounding districts, especially given the high cost of petrol,” Mr Peate said.
Mount Gambier City Council corporate and community services director Grant Humphries was also buoyed by the proposal, claiming council would view it in “positive terms”.
And Limestone Coast Tourism regional tourism manager Biddie Tietz welcomed the move.
“Any way we can get more people in and out of the city we would wrap our arms around it,” Ms Tietz said.
The Environment, Resources and Development Committee has called for public submissions on the proposal.
Committee presiding member Lyn Breuer MP said the inquiry - which would also canvass other transport proposals - was expected to sit for 12 months before submitting recommendations to parliament.
Proposals can be sent to GPO Box 572 Adelaide 5000 or to Dennis Hood’s office at Parliament House.
Submissions close October 25.
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