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Late last week, the NorthWest Rail Alliance (NWRA) met with Jacinta Allan’s Chief of Staff, Senior representative for Regional Public Transport, and campaigns manager from the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RBTU) in Melbourne.
The meeting follows NWRA’s successful meeting with the leader of the Victorian Nationals, Peter Walsh, and Mildura Member Peter Crisp, earlier this month. In this meeting, also attended by the Mayor of Mildura Rural City (MRCC) Cr. Mark Eckel, Walsh indicated that they would be willing to help finance a future feasibility study into passenger rail, if they are elected into a collation government in at the State poll this November.
NWRA notes that previous National Party Leaders such as Pater Ryan, have gone back on their words regarding rail network expansion when re-elected into government.
When told about the comments by Peter Walsh, Labor appeared to distance itself from giving simular reassurances and commitments, although we recognise that the minister was not present.
Sadly, the Labor state government seemed to repeat old ground, despite significant advances with other senior stakeholders, for example, every meeting we have had with Jacinta Allan’s office the comment “We are not doing anything [With Murray Basin Rail Project] that will preclude the introduction of passenger rail in the future” – (“we are making it easier” was the additional wording on this visit
We discussed the other state representatives we have met recently, and their positive attitudes.
Importantly, we spoke about the coming together of local government areas in the Northwest of the state to advocate for passenger rail Mildura Rural City Council has committed $500K to advocate for passenger rail as a pitch to State Government, as part of its “Future Ready” project and will now work with Yarriambiackand Buloke Shires to achieve positive outcomes using a model of advocacy recently used in the Western and Wimmera Districts. The committee had been given advice on how this money could be best utilised at our meeting with Peter Walsh, but sadly, from this meeting, when asked, no such guidance or commitment was be provided by Jacinta Allan's Chief of Staff.
At the meeting the discussion also focused on the “Western Distributor” model for future Standard Gauge (SG) service provision. Under this model, all lines west of Ballarat would be Standard Gauge, with a rail hub based at Ballarat, with Broad gauge services onward to Melbourne. Jacinta Allan's office found this ‘interesting’ but did not make any further comments regarding Ballarat becoming a rail hub.
The Rail, Bus, Tram Union Representative commented that Mildura Passenger Rail as a ‘no brainer’ as it achieves significant positive social and economic advantages for the communities of the NorthWest and parts of Outback NSW, as well as adding value to the current freight upgrades. The representative said “Why shouldn’t a daily train be added in addition to the freight task, it makes perfect sense to us”
This was also discussed in the context of the poor social indicators within Mildura Rail City Council Local Government Area and the fact that only a small percentage of the community can afford to fly.
As an example the committee members spent $400 on a medium price tickets on a return airfare from Mildura to Melbourne.
Some myths where also busted, and we will also put them on the record. According to Jacinta Allan's office, with a reintroduced service, speeds of up to 130km/h will be possible between Maryborough and Ballarat.
The committee asked about the line between Ballarat and Maryborough, which we were told a formal decision has been made to Dual Gauge this section.
However, passenger trains will be permitted to run at up to 100km/h. These speeds along the corridor as a whole reaffirm NorthWest Rail Alliance's long held stance that a passenger service could complete the run in about 6-and-a-half hours, with a service change at Maryborough.
The committee also raised the issue of the night bus, and that the 1993 timings are completely inappropriate. The committee asked in the short term if this bus could be reviewed and moved to a day trip, which was agreed upon.
Sadly, despite this being our third meeting with Jacinta Allan's office, we have yet to meet Jacinta Allan in person. This is despite repeated requests, and despite all other major parties making their state deputy, or state leader, available (Liberal, National and Greens), and all of which, have been very receptive to the situation and keen to look at the issue in greater depth.
Jacinta Allan has exhibits her continued lack of willingness and interest to meet with community organisations and Local Councils and shows a preference to meet with high profile stakeholders like rail companies and construction companies.
This meeting was requested to meet Jacinta Allan, however, for the third time, she has avoided us, and her disinterest in meeting North West Rail Alliance is obvious. The Mildura community feels as if it has been repeatedly shunned by the incumbent Andrews Government on this issue, and Sunraysia Daily picked up on this in a recent editorial. The NorthWest Rail Alliance along with the Rail Revival Alliance Victoria again call, for the fourth time, for Jacinta Allan to meet personally for constructive discussions with our organisations.
We lend our support to any party, stakeholder, or group who supports Mildura Passenger Rail as part of holistic solution for the community. As such, we are heartened by recent demonstrated support by local State Member Peter Crisp MP, in-principal support by Federal Member, Andrew Broad MP, and Mildura Rural City Council Councillor, Greg Brown, who had previously declined immediate advocacy on the issue.
The North West Rail Alliance believes that the cancellation of the Vinelander by the Kennett Liberal National Party government of the only passenger service to Mildura were exceptional short sighted and prejudiced against the needs country people for an effective rail connection to the rest of Victoria.
Labor has a fundamental opportunity to initiate the move to restore a passenger rail service to Mildura and the towns along the rail corridor as well as confidence, respect and trust in elected representatives. The NorthWest Rail Alliance call upon the State Labor Government, to immediately initiate funding for a feasibility study into Mildura Passenger Rail, and stop vacillating and hiding behind the Murray Basin Rail Project as an excuse not to do anything.
The Murray Basin Rail Project provides an opportunity to rectify the travesty and unjust removal of a passenger rail service to Mildura. The reintroduction of a passenger rail service to Mildura is not a matter of time but a matter of political obligations to all the communities along the Mildura rail corridor. To put it succinctly in Jacinta Allan's own words that she has proclaimed to other regional rail communities, 'To enable the regions residents to experience and maintain their 'connectivity' to the rest of Victoria'.
North West Rail Alliance
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