HORSHAM Rural City Council will push Public Transport Victoria for passenger rail services to be reinstated for communities on the main line west of Ararat.
Councillor Tony Phelan moved a motion at council’s meeting on Monday night requesting Public Transport Victoria integrate a V-Line train service with the existing Ararat timetable, which does not extend to the Horsham Railway Station despite the presence of an accessible railway line.
The council also urged that the service ultimately become an interstate railway service, once a national ‘rail gauge conflict’ was resolved.
Cr Phelan, who introduced the motion to the council, said it was not his intention to devalue the ‘excellent service’ the bus network provided.
“I appreciate the advantage that buses provide in flexibility of stops, however the communities west of Ararat have a grossly under-utilised resource: a high quality interstate railway line,” he said.
Cr Phelan said the desire for improved public transport had come directly from the city council’s residents during recent community consultations.
He said he expected the rail would be well used if it were available to Wimmera residents.
“There is a large body of anecdotal evidence, and I suggest probably statistical evidence, that public transport patronage significantly increases when passenger rail is an option,” he said.
Cr Phelan cited the popularity of the Bendigo, Bairnsdale, Warrnambool and Ararat lines as evidence of successful regional rail lines.
“I consider passenger rail to be a more convenient form of transport for families, the elderly and people with a disability,” he said.
“It is also a more environmentally-friendly form of transport, and provides access to the centre of Melbourne without confronting gridlock.”
Council heard that Public Transport Victoria had told Cr Phelan they regarded the bus service to Horsham from Ararat as an extension of the rail service, which was widely disputed.
“Our family is a regular user of the public transport system and we often drive to Ararat of Ballarat just to jump on the train, rather than have to use the bus service,” Cr Mark Radford said.
“And coming home on a bus from Melbourne, particularly along that stretch from Ararat to Horsham, is a rollercoaster ride.”
Cr Radford said it was feasible that the train would connect to at least Horsham, given the condition of the track.
“It’s not as though we have a closed railway line. We have an excellent railway line going right past our doorstep,” he said.
Cr Radford urged council to take the next step and rally local government authorities from surrounding municipalities to ‘make a fair dinkum’ push for the reinstated railway.
Musing on how far the train ought to go, he said it might be ‘up to communities to put their hands up to feel the pulse of where people are at’.
Several councillors expressed concern that buses were a hindrance for families, the elderly and the disabled, who might find it more difficult to access the multiple forms of transport required to connect to the nearest train.
Cr Radford said there was no doubt trains won hands down when it came to accessibility.
Cr Sue Exell also vouched for the challenges some Wimmera residents faced when it came to connecting buses and trains on the V-Line service.
“It’s really difficult for mums with their prams, pushers and child boosters to try and get taxis to get to buses to get to trains,” she said.
“Everyone would benefit greatly from us trying to push for this.”