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RAIL experts have urged the State Government to get on with building the Waurn Ponds stabling and maintenance yards — a project announced more than two years ago with the potential to create 130 jobs.
The Andrews Government allocated $115 million for the Waurn Ponds depot in the 2015/16 State Budget, but more than 800 days later the facility is still in limbo.
Rail Futures president John Hearsch, who leads an independent group formed to advocate sustainable rail solutions, said the stabling yards were needed now more than ever.
“The government announced that two and a half years ago,” Mr Hearsch said during a recent Deakin University expert panel addressing regional rail issues.
“We really need to get on with that project ... we need it very soon.”
Mr Hearsch said the project, which was originally touted as providing 100 construction jobs and 30 ongoing positions upon completion, would be a “very important job creator”.
When Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews first announced the stabling yards in May 2015 as part of a $257 million investment in new regional rail carriages and infrastructure, he and State Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the project would improve regional train services.
“This investment of more than $250 million will provide better regional train services, and help create nearly 200 jobs,” Mr Andrews said in his 2015 statement.
Ms Allan echoed those sentiments.
“The new carriages and stabling yards will create jobs and improve services for the more than 50,000 passengers who use V/Line services every weekday,” the minister said at the time.
The Waurn Ponds depot was also supposed to offer local education opportunities, with the government having pledged to work with The Gordon on developing apprenticeship programs aimed at training the next generation of train and tram engineers.
When contacted by the Geelong Advertiser this week, a spokeswoman for Ms Allan indicated the government was still committed to the “critical” project.
“The new maintenance and stabling facility near Waurn Ponds is critical infrastructure needed to house and maintain a growing fleet of new VLocity carriages for the regional network,” the spokeswoman said.
“The Government has purchased 87 new carriages and is adding hundreds of new services to the regional network to get people home safer and sooner.”
It’s understood Public Transport Victoria has conducted surveying, geotechnical work and cultural heritage, flora and fauna investigations across Waurn Ponds to identify a viable build site.
The Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources and PTV are also reportedly consulting with land owners in the area.
Minister Allan’s office did not respond to queries regarding whether land acquisition issues had caused the delays.
Mount Duneed farmer Stan Larcombe has previously expressed his chagrin with State Government efforts to compulsorily acquire about 35ha of his 455ha farm in order to build the facility.
G21 Geelong Region Alliance chief executive Elaine Carbines has urged locals to “pressure politicians” to find faster solutions for regional rail issues.
“We’ve been too complacent about it,” Ms Carbines told attendees at the Deakin rail panel.
“If politicians don’t think it’s an important issue to you the voter, then something else will get their attention.
“You need to make sure that our politicians are aware ... you need to keep up the pressure.”
This article first appeared on www.geelongadvertiser.com.au
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