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A fight for better passenger-rail services connecting the Wimmera with Melbourne has gathered intensity, with Member for Mallee Andrew Broad challenging the State Government to take action.
Mr Broad told The Weekly Advertiser the Federal Government had opened the door for the potential for national support but the request had to come from the State Government.
“In the past, the Federal Government funded mainly rail freight, leaving passenger rail to state governments,” he said.
“However, the Federal Government is now prepared to assist in funding business cases for passenger rail and to fund up to 75 percent of building costs.
“But an application and partnership to undertake both a business case and passenger rail to Horsham and Stawell must come from the Victorian Government.”
Mr Broad said he could see a concept where a velocity train ran on Australian Rail Track Commission standard-gauge tracks from Horsham, through Stawell and Ararat to Ballarat, where passengers would change to a broad-gauge train to Melbourne.
He said the vision involved converting the track from Ararat to Ballarat to standard gauge.
“Velocity trains are made in Dandenong, there would need to be additional boom-gate crossings, timetable considerations, station upgrades and some track changes,” he said.
“All this is completely doable, but it will take commitment from both the federal and state governments.”
Mr Broad said despite Horsham and Stawell being vibrant inland cities, they lacked adequate connectivity.
“I believe their long-term future must involve regular passenger-rail services to Ballarat and Melbourne,” he said.
“I have witnessed the growth that has come to other Victorian cities where good-speed internet connection and regular passenger-rail services have enhanced employment and study opportunities.
“Let’s be honest – living, studying and working in Horsham and Stawell is much better than being stuck on the smog-filled freeways of Melbourne.
“However, given that some jobs and study require regular trips to Melbourne, many people are forced to move away.
“With flexible work hours and study, living in the region is great provided it’s relatively simple to get to where you need to go.
“Many of our senior Australians head to Ballarat for health appointments, and a short drive to Horsham or Stawell followed by a pleasant train ride would make those appointments a lot easier.”
Wimmera Development Association executive director Ralph Kenyon was quick to back Mr Broad’s push for action on the passenger-rail issue.
“We would certainly support Mr Broad’s push for a business case to improve passenger-rail services for Horsham and Stawell,” he said.
“The State Government has a regional passenger-rail plan but it doesn’t really include anywhere west of Ararat.
“If the Federal Government is prepared to seriously consider funding not only a business case, but also up to 75 percent of project costs, then we need the State Government to consider this as part of the regional transport strategy,” Mr Kenyon said.
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy has also stepped up a Victorian push to improve regional public transport services in western Victoria.
“Access and connectivity of public transport services is a real problem right across western Victoria,” she said.
“Improved public transport is vital to reversing our region’s population decline and support decentralisation initiatives. It will help local people to get to work, school, shops, medical appointments and much more.”
Ms Kealy said Census data revealed only 0.6 percent of people across the Lowan electorate used public transport to get to work.
“This statistic is not surprising given the lack of public transport options currently available,” she said.
“Western Victoria can get moving again with better access to public transport. I’m asking local people to help get our voice heard in parliament and share their views about how better public transport services would improve their lives in our great part of the state.
“Together we can deliver a strong message that the 110,000 people who live in western Victoria deserve and want better train and bus links.”
Ms Kealy said people could have their say online at haveyoursayvictoria.org/westernpublictransport
services or by calling her electorate office on 5382 0097 or 5571 9800.
Ms Kealy has also been critical of a V-Line passenger timetable involving Horsham, which she believes has increased travel times.
“Not only does the new timetable include no new services to Horsham, many of the changes actually increase travel times to the region,” she said.
“There is no doubt western Victoria has the poorest public transport in the state and the situation is getting worse, not better.
“These changes under Labor’s watch are only making public transport less accessible and cutting our region off from other major regional centres and Melbourne.”
This article first appeared on www.theweeklyadvertiser.com.au
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