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THE Rail Revival Alliance has hit back at public transport minister Jacinta Allan for ruling out a direct Bendigo-Geelong rail link, vowing to continue to fight for the project in the lead-up to this year’s state election.
Ms Allan was questioned about the proposal last week, and said it had been dismissed in a 2013 report by the former Victorian Coalition government and would not be considered by Labor.
The Coalition commissioned the report as part of a promise before the 2010 election, but it found the Bendigo-Geelong project could cost between $760 million and $935 million and it was ruled out.
Another part of the report – completed by V/Line – estimated that 2200 people would use the service per day, rising to 3000 within 18 months.
Rail Revival Alliance public relations manager Scott Ramsay said this patronage was enough to make the rail link viable, and believed the cost of connecting Bendigo to Geelong was greatly exaggerated.
He said the main works would need to take place between Castlemaine and Maryborough at a cost of $300 million.
“This level of patronage would increase exponentially with the increases in the populations of the regional centres of Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Creswick, Ballarat, Bannockburn and Geelong along the rail line and in the towns that the Bendigo-Geelong rail corridor traverses,” Mr Ramsay said.
“Jacinta Allan exposes her limitations... towards country towns, whose economies have been successively sabotaged by politicians closing rail lines and stopping passenger rail services to their towns.”
He said the Coalition’s 2013 report was only a basic overview, and it was designed to get former state National Party leader Peter Ryan “off the hook” after he expressed interest in the idea before the 2010 election, which the Coalition won.
Last week, Ms Allan said the state government had more pressing regional rail priorities, including the $1.57 billion Regional Rail Revival plan which includes $91 million to improve the line between Bendigo and Echuca.
She denied that the Bendigo-Geelong link would help rejuvenate towns on the line, which is proposed to reopen stations at Newstead, Carisbrook and Guildford.
The Maryborough-Castlemaine service was withdrawn in 1977, and the track was closed in 2004.
The Maryborough line recently reopened after a community campaign.
Between 1981 and 2011, the population of Bendigo has increased by 49 per cent, the population of Ballarat increased 31 per cent, and Geelong 14 per cent.
But the Coalition’s report believed there has also been a drastic increase in the reliance of cars in Victoria, which would have impacted rail demand between the centres.
An online poll of more than 300 Bendigo Advertiser readers earlier this month found 40 per cent would catch a train from Bendigo to Ballarat every few months, 28 per cent every few weeks, 24 per cent never, and 8 per cent every day.
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