The Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) has today welcomed the state Coalition’s commitments to improve regional rail in western Victoria if elected in November.
A study commissioned by a group of councils in western Victoria in 2017 called for a swathe of improvements to public transport in their regions, including returning passenger trains to Horsham and Hamilton, and improving a number of coach connections. The Coalition have announced their intention to fund a formal business case for these proposals.
PTUA Ballarat Branch Convener, Ben Lever, welcomed the announcement as the first step towards returning passenger trains beyond Ararat.
“Returning passenger trains to these communities is really vital for connecting them to each other, and to Ballarat and Melbourne. We hope this business case can do the detailed planning necessary to allow construction to start as soon as possible,” he said.
“Passenger trains along these routes would act as the spine of the region. When fast, high-capacity passenger trains are running on these routes, they can be complemented by connecting coaches to places that aren’t on the rail line, and thereby improve public transport across the whole region.”
The Coalition also propose extending the Maryborough line to Donald, reactivating stations at Dunolly and St Arnaud along the way. These extensions are also seen as a first step towards returning passenger services all the way to Mildura in the future.
“Returning passenger trains to these communities would be a real boon. Whether they’re taking shorter trips to Maryborough or Ballarat, or going all the way to Melbourne, a fast and well-timed train could be extremely useful for the people living in these towns.” Mr Lever said.
Mr Lever did note that there were some technical obstacles to returning trains to returning passenger trains beyond Maryborough that would need to be addressed.
“In that part of Victoria there is a mixture of Broad Gauge track, which is primarily used for passenger services, and Standard Gauge track, which is primarily used for freight services. Because a given train can only run on one type of track, passengers travelling all the way from Donald to Melbourne would need to change from a Standard Gauge train to a Broad Gauge train at some point in their journey – the decision will need to be made about where that change should happen. We look forward to the Coalition providing these kinds of finer details about their policy in the coming months.”
While Mr Lever welcomed the proposed reopening of these stations, he warned against a “set and forget” approach.
“Governments need to bear in mind that it’s not just about providing the infrastructure or providing “a train” – it’s about backing that up with services that are frequent enough and timed well enough to really be useful to passengers,” he said.
“When the Maryborough line was reopened in 2010, it initially only had one train running in each direction per weekday, and no trains on weekends. After years of local campaigning, the line finally has two trains per weekday. and one train per weekend day – which still leaves a lot to be desired. It’s still not possible to live along the Maryborough line and commute to Melbourne by 9am, or return from Melbourne after 5pm – or for tourists to take a train to Maryborough on a weekend morning. If services are returned to these other towns, they will need to avoid these kinds of issues by providing a good level of service from day one.”
Under another Coalition proposal, Ararat would also get an extra counter-peak service on weekday mornings, allowing people to get to Ararat by 9.00am. Currently, the earliest train to Ararat arrives at 10.39am, which is too late for most workers.
“In the current term of government, Ararat has gotten a new early-morning peak service that allows people to live in Ararat or Beaufort and commute to Melbourne by 9 am. If implemented, this new service would allow people to do the reverse-commute by train – travel from Ballarat to Ararat every morning, and take the existing coach service home in the evenings.” Mr Lever said.
“There are already many people who live in Ballarat and work in Ararat, but they currently have to drive – so there is a clear market who could take advantage of this service.”
Mr Lever also called on other political parties to match the Coalition’s pledges. “It’s fantastic to see the Coalition recognising how important public transport will be in spreading population and prosperity across Victoria. The current Labor government has made strong investments in regional public transport in this term, but they won’t be able to rest on their laurels – they will need to pledge to continue this investment next term, as will the Greens and other crossbenchers who may hold the balance of power.”
“Ballarat is ideally placed to become a hub for much of western Victoria, offering health services, education, employment, tourism and many other things. For that to happen we need really strong public transport connections – and that means improving the infrastructure and services we already have, as well as reopening old lines and reconnecting with towns that lost their services in past decades.”