Wimmera push for shuttle passenger rail service

HORSHAM Rural City Council wants to meet Wimmera and south-western councils in February to push for a shuttle passenger rail service.

Horsham is among four municipalities exploring the potential for a shuttle service.

Using the Wimmera’s existing standard gauge rail tracks, the shuttle would connect communities including Kaniva, Dimboola, Murtoa, Nhill, Horsham and Stawell to Ararat.

Horsham chief executive Peter Brown said a second proposed shuttle line would extend from Ararat through to Portland, via Hamilton.

“Both the standard and broad gauges terminate in Ararat,” he said.

The shuttle would connect to the existing broad gauge V/Line service from Ararat to Melbourne, via Ballarat.

Mr Brown met delegates from Ararat Rural City, Southern Grampians Shire and Glenelg Shire councils on Friday last week to discuss the idea.

“It’s a dream at this stage,” he said.

He hopes a feasibility study will reveal whether a standard gauge shuttle passenger service would be financially and operationally viable.

Before then, he said councils would meet in Ararat to gauge support for the idea.

Horsham, Ararat, Portland and Hamilton municipalities will also seek advice from Public Transport Victoria.

“The idea has been around in the Wimmera for a few years,” Mr Brown said.

“But given the south-west has also jumped on board, I think this is a really important time.

“There is enormous benefit to the people who live in country areas where there is a consistent, reliable passenger rail service.”

Mr Brown believes a shuttle would encourage new residents, and allow people to access health and education services more easily.

“We’d like to test that theory,” he said.

More than 400 Facebook users ‘liked’ an earlier story about the shuttle passenger rail service after the Mail-Times posted it in October.

Twenty-two users shared the story, and more than 130 shared their opinion.

Mr Brown said council had been encouraged by the public interest.

“People clearly want a return of passenger rail,” he said.

Speaking at Monday’s city council meeting, Cr Tony Phelan said Horsham needed a rail link.

He travelled to Bairnsdale using public transport on Friday last week.

After catching a bus to Ballarat, he took a train to Melbourne. From there, he caught a four-carriage 352-seat train to Bairnsdale.

“A lot of people hopped on the train from Ballarat and I even saw people I knew from Balmoral,’’ he said.

“It was a fast, efficient service and landed us in Melbourne.

“It was a vibrant, pulsating communication link.”

But he said there were some qualifications.

“There is no gauge break between Melbourne and Bairnsdale, and the Gippsland community is much bigger than ours,” Cr Phelan said.

“I feel as though this community, our community, is missing a vital link which links the country to the city.”

People supporting a rail link between Bendigo, Castlemaine, Maryborough, Ballarat and Geelong will rally for the re-introduction of regional passenger rail in their communities on Sunday.

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