PASSENGER trains could be on track to Horsham within five years if the state government gives it the green light.
A comprehensive report, commissioned by eight councils in western Victoria, deems a return rail service to Horsham and Hamilton is not only feasible but vital for the community.
Horsham Rural City Council mayor Pam Clarke said rail could mean huge life-changing impacts for people in the Wimmera – particularly with 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.”
Councils launched the report in Ararat on Tuesday as the first step in lobbying the government – 18 months from a state election, but also to start talks with federal government bodies.
Horsham and Ararat rural cities and the Southern Grampians, Glenelg, Northern Grampians, Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh and West Wimmera shires are united in the push.
Their stance is improved public transport will open new opportunities in jobs, education, health, friends, shopping and sport – particularly in larger city hubs of Ballarat and Melbourne.
The report also recommends more coach services across the Wimmera and south-west for improved connectivity to road and rail, particularly in the west Wimmera.
Ararat is a likely hub for future coach services along the Western Highway.
Increased rail services for Ararat, with more commuter-friendly timed services, to Melbourne via Ballarat is the report’s stage one recommendation.
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 cost was low in the scale of public transport costs – particularly when it came to equity in state government public transport spending for people living in the west.
“It just makes sense to me,” Cr Hooper said.
“You hear the elderly are not making trips for simple things, like getting fresh produce from a bigger town…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.”
The council alliance will reconvene in three months.