HORSHAM Rural City Council will seek funding for a feasibility study as it continues its push for the reinstatement of passenger rail to the region.
Council will join forces with neighbouring councils to lobby for State Government support for rail services for communities in the Wimmera, southern Mallee and Victoria’s south-west.
On Monday night councillors agreed to write to Wimmera Regional Transport Group, Ararat Rural City, Southern Grampians and Glenelg Shire councils to ask them for a financial contribution towards a feasibility study and business case for a rail shuttle service.
Wimmera Regional Transport Group consists of Horsham, West Wimmera, Hindmarsh, Yarriambiack, Buloke and Northern Grampians councils.
The councils met on February 25 to advance the case for a shuttle service from the Wimmera and south-west using existing standard gauge railways to link up with services from Ararat to Melbourne.
Horsham chief executive Peter Brown said the meeting – which included representatives from the Department of Transport Planning and Local Infrastructure, Public Transport Victoria and V-Line – was fruitful.
“Many of the councils of the south-west and the Wimmera believe the return of passenger rail is a significant economic driver as important in providing increased employment opportunities and has an important social aspect for our communities to access services in Ballarat and Melbourne,” he said.
Mr Brown said Public Transport Victoria advised council in April last year it was creating a vision for regional public transport.
“We were informed at the meeting that network development plans for the Central Highlands and Wimmera and southern Mallee regions were well advanced and that further work would be undertaken in the central Grampians region,” he said.
Mr Brown said councils agreed last month to provide Public Transport Victoria with evidence-based advice on potential public transport improvements.
He said this needed to be supported by a strong business case.
The councils will seek funding for the study from Regional Development Victoria, the Department of Transport Planning and Local Infrastructure and Public Transport Victoria.
Mr Brown said Horsham Rural City’s contribution could be about $5000, which would be determined once the project brief was developed.
Cr Tony Phelan said while bus services had improved, councils must continue to lobby for a train service.
“I think people underestimate what a passenger rail service would do for the region,” he said.
Cr Pam Clarke said the service was essential for an ageing population.
“There are many people with mobility issues and health issues who need to get to Melbourne and Ballarat for services,” she said.
“Trains are also far more user-friendly for young families.
“I hope we look at the needs of the whole community.”
Mayor David Grimble said benefits of passenger rail were well-known.
“We need to know what the challenges and limiting factors are,” he said.
“Once we know what they are we can work through that and present a solid case.”
The councils involved will meet again on Friday.