Bring back passenger rail
IT IS pleasing to note the continued push to re-establish passenger rail services to regional Victoria west of Ararat.
For too long, the transport needs of communities in this region have been constrained by the rail gauge change at Ararat.
Without this restriction there seems little doubt that passenger rail services would have been returned, beyond Ararat, in 2004.
There are three daily passenger rail return services each weekday to and from Ararat, two on Saturday and Sunday, with intentions to increase this to four with an additional early morning service that provides a commuting option to Ballarat. There are no V-Line passenger rail services west of Ararat.
The joint financial contribution from Horsham Rural City Council and our seven adjoining councils, together with the state government, enabled the creation of the Grampians and Barwon South West Region Passenger Services Cost and Feasibility Study. John Hearsch Consulting released the study in March.
The driver for this report was the desire by councils for passenger services and infrastructure – not necessarily restricted to rail, but “that would improve social and economic access and connectivity, reduce isolation and enable present and future residents of the region to easily connect with regional centres and Melbourne to meet social, economic, medical, educational and business needs through safe, efficient, frequent and reliable public transport”.
The involvement of Horsham council’s retiring chief executive Peter Brown in working with the neighbouring councils to establish this report – together with Susan Surridge, who acted as the study co-ordinator – should be acknowledged.
Their advocacy for improved public transport – in particular the reinstatement of passenger rail – is a position that should be supported by all who recognise the importance of the issues raised above.
I believe the people of our municipalities and Western Victoria as a whole should not accept an inferior service and isolation from the V-Line rail network when a solution to the gauge change problem exists. The solution requires a transfer between trains on the standard and broad gauge networks.
The study identified a variety of complex and costly issues associated with the return of passenger rail to Western Victoria.
It also stated: “Reintroduction of passenger trains to Hamilton and Horsham will provide widespread benefits to communities throughout the region and beyond and be the centrepiece of revised public passenger services through faster, more reliable and more comfortable links with Ballarat and Melbourne.”
It said: “Despite challenges, reintroduction of passenger train services to Hamilton and Horsham is feasible and is recommended, together with a strengthening of connecting coach services.”
The study suggested many staged rail service improvements with some stage two (2021 to 2026) recommendations being the provision of six return daily services to Ararat, four to Horsham and three to Hamilton.
Also included in the stage two recommendations is the standardisation of 88 kilometres of railway from Ballarat to Ararat. The standardisation of this section of line would mean a transfer from a standard gauge V-Line service to the broad gauge V-Line service would need to occur at Ballarat.
The costs are large. Estimated costs for infrastructure upgrades to enable increased speeds and the provision of rolling stock are about $360 million.
Acceptance and implementation of the Hearsch study together with the completion of the $420 million Murray Basin Standardisation Project, which is already underway, effectively unifies rail gauges in Western Victoria – a very desirable outcome for the rail system as a whole.
I anticipate that the cost of the recommendations associated with the Hearsch study may be an obstacle that impedes implementation. It is important that social, economic and other benefits are not devalued in any analysis of the proposal to return passenger rail. From the figures presented, about $100 million of the total cost is attached to the standardisation of the line between Ballarat and Ararat. The need for this expenditure would be removed if the train transfer occurred at Ararat. For Melbourne-bound passengers, this also has the advantage of removing the competition for seats with Ballarat commuters because the necessary transfer has already occurred.
I would hope this option could be further reviewed even if only as an interim measure.
The questions for government are: What value is placed on the people living in our Western Victorian communities? When there is talk of regional Western Victoria, is there an appreciation that this region extends to the South Australian border? What commitment is there to support and grow this region?
Western Victoria should not be isolated because of a rail gauge change at Ararat.
It is time to reinstate passenger rail.
Tony Phelan, Horsham
Responsibility on roads
SAVING lives and reducing serious injuries on regional roads is everyone’s responsibility. It is up to governments at all levels to build and maintain better, safer roads and as drivers we need to accept responsibility by purchasing the safest car we can afford and driving in a manner which respects others.
You are more likely to be killed or injured on regional roads than any others, and it is up to us to do everything we can to reduce road trauma over the holiday period.
This Christmas if you are driving for work or on holidays, please take care on our roads and drive at speeds which reflect the local conditions. The decisions we make will impact on our families, friends and others members of the community.
Darren Chester, Transport Minister