THE Greens are heading a campaign to reopen the Geelong-Ballarat-Bendigo train lines.
Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said there had been a population boom around the Goldfields area since buses replaced trains in the 1970s and buses were struggling to keep pace with the demand.
Mr Barber said residents in Ballarat and surrounding areas needed fast and frequent train travel to places other than Melbourne.
“We support a staged re-introduction of passenger services, with existing stations reopened if possible and other new low-cost stations constructed where required,” he said.
“V/Line buses are the only public transport for many towns along the line, but they are unable to offer a viable commuter service.”
Mr Barber said an increasing number of people wanted to travel between regional cities for work, education, health and recreation.
“Reopening this line also has the ability to revitalise all the small regional towns in between Ballarat and Geelong,” he said.
“It will encourage more people to live in these towns because it’s all about expanding the set of opportunities and that’s what fast and frequent public transport does.
“In any of those small towns now, to get a job the first qualification is to own a car, because there just isn’t those accessible public transport means to get to and from regional towns.”
He said the first stage of the project would be reopening the Geelong to Ballarat rail line, with new low-cost stations at Bannockburn and Meredith.
Mr Barber said stage two would be to repair and rebuild the train line between Maryborough and Castlemaine and the establishment of faster service that would continue on existing tracks to Bendigo.
A state government Rail Revival Feasibility Study conducted last year estimated the cost of a full reopening would be between $760-$935 million.
But Rail Revival Alliance member and engineer Noel Laidlaw also completed an independent study which found reopening the
line to a basic service would cost around $90 million.
Mr Laidlaw believes a rail service can be established based on the current Maryborough-Ballarat service and would be adequate to meet the community’s need for rail services between regional cities.
Jess Maguire, spokeswoman for Public Transport Minister Terry Mulder, said the high cost to reopen the line was due to the Labor government’s closure of most of the Castlemaine-Maryborough line and necessary upgrades that were required.
“(The study) recommended a staged approach to the improvement of public transport in the Midland region, with a first stage proposing additional coach trips between these major provincial cities,” Ms Maguire said.
Premier Denis Napthine also addressed the issue when he visited Ballarat on Thursday.
He told The Courier the government was currently focused on the regional rail link project, however did not rule out the possible reconnection of rail between Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong.
“Under our clear policy to grow populations in country Victoria, there may be opportunities for further intercity rail services,” he said.
“We continue to look at opportunities for improved public transport but we need to have a critical mass to justify such significant investments.”