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The Shepparton Rail Upgrade has been allocated $320 million from the commonwealth in the recent budget, adding to the $356 million from the state.
It means the project has been given an end-date, and will deliver nine return VLocity services a day and an under two hour trip from late-2023.
However, this development has come years after other regional centres.
Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell said Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong had received upgrades, increased services and VLocity trains over 15 years.
“But Shepparton was left out on that – be it a combination of lack of advocacy and lack of political will.”
Research conducted by the organisation found Shepparton – the fifth largest Victorian regional centre – missed out on three big statewide rail projects from 2002 to 2017, totalling $4.42 billion.
It meant in 2018, Ballarat, Bendigo and Traralgon had about 20 services to Southern Cross each day, whereas Shepparton had four.
And trips to all major regional centres from Southern Cross Station were under two hours, while a trip from Shepparton took more than two-and-a-half hours.
While Shepparton has gotten the funding to finish stage three, Mr Birrell said they were starting to think ahead beyond 2023.
“We always would’ve preferred it earlier, but I’m happy we’re here now,” he said.
“What the government needs to do is focus on the next improvement that can be made.”
SheppartonRAIL member Michael Welk said the funding was the perfect combination of events at the right time – but also said there was a way to go.
He started advocacy for Shepparton rail in 2011 and after surveying thousands of people in the region, came up with a parliamentary submission and met with the state coalition government in 2013.
When the Labour government was elected in 2014, the small advocacy group continued lobbying alongside council and local government members, other community organisations and got the funding.
“When you advocate for something, it depends on the environment at the time,” he said.
“What the government now needs to do … is get the trains from Shepparton to move at speed through the metro area,” he said.
The All Aboard Shepparton campaign, where 120 Shepparton locals boarded train from Shepparton to Melbourne. Photo provided by Suzanna Sheed.Independent Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed was glad Shepparton finally got the recognition it deserved.
She said the success of her 2014 campaign came down to rail and health, where she won a safe 50-year National seat.
The push for better rail culminated in a protest at state parliament in 2015, where about 120 Shepparton residents – wearing pyjamas – caught the 6:31 train into the city to call on the Transport Minister Jacinta Allen to deliver more services.
“Rail was an important service we had wanted for so long, and Shepparton just missed out completely all the time,” she said.
“The issue that captured the concern and the imagination of the community the most,” she said.
“I should be modest – but having an independent in a seat at the right time can deliver so much more than being in a safe seat.
“It shows an independent can work with parties of any description and can put the spotlight on a region that has been neglected for so long.”
Both Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum and Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said the state Labour Government neglected Shepparton rail, leaving no choice but for the Commonwealth Government to follow.
“It’s only been decisions of government and it’s been very disappointing,” Mr Drum said.
“There has continued to be this growing gap between services offered to cities like Warrnambool, Shepparton, Wodonga have all been left behind.”
Mr Drum said even though the state coalition did not commit to Shepparton rail while in government between 2010 and 2014, he said if they had their time again he would had “made its case”.
But like others in the community, he’s now focused on the track ahead – getting even more and faster services to and from the Goulburn Valley.
“These additional nine services of VLocity per day into Shepparton will still only be half of what Bendigo has,” he said.
“While we are working on getting this current project up, we’re continuing to push the Victorian Government for better rail.”
This article first appeared on www.heraldsun.com.au
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