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Ballarat could be the focus of even more public transport traffic as a group of western Victoria councils push to share in on train connectivity.
The push is aiming to make Ararat, whose trains now run through Ballarat, a major passenger commuter hub connecting it by rail to destinations across western Victoria including the Wimmera.
A comprehensive report, commissioned by eight councils in western Victoria, deems there should be increased rail services between Ararat and Melbourne with a particular focus to improve rail travel between Ararat and Ballarat.
This is outlined as a crucial step to bring passenger train services back to Horsham and Hamilton, which the report found could be on track within five years if given the green light. The public transport strategy deems a return to rail as not only feasible but vital for each community, for more opportunity in jobs, education, health, friends, shopping and sport.
Horsham Rural City Council mayor Pam Clarke said the difference could mean huge life-changing impacts for people in the Wimmera, particularly in access to high education and health.
“We have one of the highest rates of death with cancer in our region. Much of that is because people cannot get easy access to the services they need – they give up because it’s too hard or because it’s far more stressful to try and get to that help,” Cr Clarke said. “This has been badly needed for many, many years.”
We have one of the highest rates of death with cancer because people cannot get easy access to the services they need – it’s too hard- Cr Pam Clarke
Increased coach services across the Wimmera and south-west are also high on the agenda. Ararat has been declared a likely hub for future coach services along the Western Highway.
Councils involved in the project launched the report in Ararat on Tuesday as the first step in lobbying state government. Horsham and Ararat rural cities and the Southern Grampians, Glenelg, Northern Grampians, Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh and West Wimmera shires are united in the push.
The report estimates the project’s total capital cost to be $369 million, the bulk of which is upgrading existing rail infrastructure – $217 million to Horsham and $92 million to add Hamilton.
Ararat mayor Paul Hooper said while the money might seem a lot, it was not in the scale of public transport costs, particularly when it came to equity in state public transport spending for people living in the west.
“It just makes sense to me,” Cr Hooper said. “Rail speed is a good factor but there’s also the safety, not having to drive on the highways.It all opens potential to attract more professionals working here or living here and it’s great for our kids attending university.”
This article first appeared on www.thecourier.com.au
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