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Construction on a high-speed rail line, cutting the trip between Melbourne and Geelong to just 32 minutes, would begin in about 18 months under a plan announced by the Federal Government, with the election less than two months away.
Daniel Andrews's Government announced $50 million in last year's budget to develop a business case for the project.
Under the Federal Government's proposal, the trains would travel at an average speed of 160 kilometres per hour and take about 32 minutes, down from the current time of about an hour.
Protesters were on the platform at Geelong Station when Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived for the announcement with Minister for Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and local Liberal MP Sarah Henderson.
Police watched over the group who tried to disrupt the event by chanting while the Prime Minister and others were speaking.
Mr Tudge said construction could begin within 18 months.
Experts, he said, had costed the upgrade from Sunshine to Wyndham Vale at $2 billion.
The portion from Sunshine to Southern Cross station is part of the airport rail link project and the remaining money would be used to upgrade the existing train line and for some station improvements.
"The State Government has prioritised this also and has put $50 million to do the detailed assessments of it," Mr Tudge said.
"Now we have put in $2 billion towards getting it constructed.
The plan would be dependent on receiving matching funding from the Victorian Government.
"We look forward to working with them [the Victorian Government]," Mr Morrison said.
But the idea has been dismissed by the State Government, with Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan calling it a "thought bubble" on the eve of a federal election.
"If the Federal Government was fair dinkum about delivering faster rail to Geelong then they should immediately fund their share of the Waurn Ponds [rail] duplication project and get on board with our plan to build new tracks from Southern Cross to Wyndham Vale," she said.
"These are the precursor projects we need. We're planning these projects right now.
"If they were wanting to be fair dinkum about delivering faster rail to Geelong they'd work on the real projects, not a thought bubble on the eve of an election."
First of many high speed rail projectsThe Andrews Government has already promised to build a new rail tunnel between Melbourne's CBD and Sunshine under a plan to boost rail services to the city's booming west and to create fast links to Geelong and Ballarat.
The "congestion busting" project to be announced today would take the pressure off the Princes Freeway, used by over 54,000 vehicles a day, and the West Gate Bridge.
Mr Tudge said it would be the first of many to be built over the next 20 years.
"We'd like to see multiple fast-rail tracks built connecting the regional centres to the big capitals," he told the ABC.
"We're also looking at other regional centres like Wodonga, Traralgon and Shepparton.
"We're doing the detailed assessments on those now and that will inform what our future priorities are."
High-speed rail in Australia
The Victorian Coalition had promised a similar plan for high-speed rail between Melbourne and Geelong ahead of last year's state election.
Sarah Henderson, the Liberal member for marginal seat of Corangamite, west of Geelong, said the announcement was a "game changer" for the district.
"[It's] so important for the region, so important for jobs, families and for this incredible city," she told ABC Radio Melbourne.
She conceded some services would have stops but said there would be express services to dramatically improve the current travel time of 61 minutes.
"There will be a dual track between Wyndham and Sunshine so that of course that would be separated out," she said.
"There will also be an upgrading of the track from Geelong through to Wyndham Vale.
"So that will accommodate the faster speeds."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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