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Victoria's troubled regional rail network V/Line will get a $1.45 billion upgrade, including funding for a new line to Torquay, as part of the State Government's upcoming budget.
The package includes $435 million dollars for the Gippsland line, improvements to the Warrnambool, Echuca, Bendigo and Ballarat services, and $110 million for the new Surf Coast rail project to Torquay.
"[It] will see upgrades on every single regional line across Victoria, it's the next step of our regional rail revival, investing in the public transport that regional Victorians deserve and can rely on," Victorian Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said.
Last year, the service was plagued with problems,including faulty boom gates and unrelated wheel issues, causing a period of mass cancellations, bus replacements and free travel for commuters, leading tohigh-level resignations.
Local councils and the Gippsland V/Line User's Group have also been lobbying for improvements to their local line, arguing the region has the slowest and most unreliable passenger train service in the Victoria.
Despite the ongoing issues, the state's regional rail service has experienced a boom in passenger numbers.
Ms Allan said for the month of March V/Line carried 1.9 million trips, more than it has ever carried before.
"That is putting additional pressure on the network and this … is about investing in improving tracks, improving signalling [and] undertaking big infrastructure projects."
The announcement was welcomed by the Public Transport Users Association's Paul Westcott, who said the system was "groaning under its own success".
"There's been a problem with catching up with the, unexpected in some cases, increase in patronage and also catching up with the dearth of expenditure on regional rail up until the last couple of decades," he said.
"For many, many decades before that the rail system was in decline."
But he said it was still unclear when the benefits of the funding would actually be seen by commuters on the ground.
"What passengers would be interested to see is the actual time line for the delivery of some of these projects," he said.
"It's one thing to announce the money that's projected to be spent on them, but it's another thing to actually see the effects of this spending … we still need the detail as far as that's concerned."
Ms Allan said up to 1,000 jobs are expected to be created during construction.
Funding from Port of Melbourne saleMs Allan said the package would be funded by money the Commonwealth owes Victoria from the Asset Recycling Fund, following the privatisation of the Port of Melbourne.
The allocation of that money has been the subject of an ongoing stoush between the state and federal governments since the sale of the port last year.
Victoria believes it is entitled to a 15 per cent bonus — $1.45 billion — on the $9.7 billion long-term lease.
"This is funding that should come to Victoria, and needs to come to Victoria, we would expect that the Federal Liberal Government would support this package," she said.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull threw his support behind a Melbourne Airport rail link, while the Victorian Government maintained that the money should be spent on regional rail projects, which are "ready to go".
Ms Allan said the up-coming budget would include some money to look into the airport link.
"The Andrews Labor Government wants to use $10 million through the asset recycling scheme to develop a new airport rail plan," she said.
"We want to do this in partnership with the private sector to look at how we can deliver this project but make sure we deliver it in a planned and proper way."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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