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Take any morning train from one of the commuter towns outside Melbourne and you'll notice long periods of silence, and not just on the quiet carriages.
Poor mobile phone coverage has plagued V-Line commuters for years, with less than 50 per cent of the rail corridors receiving service. But the state government says it's making headway on an improvement plan.
Neglected rail corridors to Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Traralgon and Seymour will move up to 95 per cent coverage, according to a new deal struck between the Andrews government and a telecom consortium of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone.
The $18 million scheme announced on Tuesday will include the construction of 35 new mobile towers, due to be finished in 2018. Work has also already begun to retro-fit metal Vlocity carriages with a in-train technology that will boost existing signals.
For passengers on the commuter V-Line network – which spans from Marshall in the west, Wendouree in the north-west, Eaglehawk in the north, Seymour in the north-east, and Traralgon in the south-east – the change can't come quickly enough.
"We've become cynical about these kinds of announcements, but this one certainly seems to have promise," said Paul Westcott, regional spokesman for the Public Transport Users Association.
Mr Westcott said blackspots were an enormous problem and had been for a long time.
"I think travellers on all regional lines will be able to tell you there are spots depending on which telco you're with that are a real problem," he said.
Mr Westcott added that many commuters expect to be able to work during the trips of an hour or more.
Funding for regional blackspots has been through the political wringer, with the Andrews government previously accused of "childish and pathetic" tactics by the Turnbull government.
A federal mobile phone tower initiative knocked back almost half of the upgrade requests made by the Victorian government in late 2016.
Innovation Minister Philip Dalidakis accused a "Sydney-centric" Mr Turnbull of playing political games and ignoring Victorian communities identified as priority areas.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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