FORMER Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer has thrown his support behind the Western Rail Project.
Mr Fischer said this before he spoke about future-proofing Australia’s agriculture industry at a Rural Press Club event on Friday night.
The Western Rail Project proposes to return passenger rail services to the region within five years.
Representatives from Horsham and Ararat Rural Cities and the Southern Grampians, Glenelg, Northern Grampians, Yarriambiack, Hindmarsh and West Wimmera shires launched a feasibility study over 12 months ago which said a Horsham and Hamilton rail service was feasible.
The advocacy group are seeking $4 million from the state and federal governments to develop a business case.
Mr Fischer said he “broadly supported” the Western Rail campaign and was considering becoming an ambassador for the project.
“We need to get rail right and this dynamic chunk of Victoria shouldn’t be ignored,” he said.
“Curiously enough 122 years ago Mark Twain caught 16 passenger trains through this region. We have gone backwards.”
Mr Fischer said people forced to drive to Ararat to access train services or rely on the Overlander was not a suitable option. He said the world was moving back to passenger rail services and Victoria should follow suit.
“The world is swinging back to rail – the United States are swinging back to passenger rail and intermodal freight rail massively in their large cities and regional areas,” he said.
“We have seen Victorians swing back to rail with the Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong upgrades and also add-ons to the Ararat and Maryborough services.”
However, he said the completion of the triangle at Ararat was crucial to the efficiency of freight trains and passenger rail in the region. The Ararat triangle is in the process of being completed.
“On a practical note, the first thing that should be completed is the triangle at Ararat, which would allow greater efficiency of freight trains from Mildura to Melbourne and improve the line through to Horsham,” he said.
“At the moment freight trains have to unnecessarily block that main line for an hour every time they come through, to and from Mildura.
“Everything is interrelated so the dear old overland can get clobbered when a Mildura standard gauge freight train is stuffing around on the Horsham side of Ararat.”