Campaigners push for Goldfields line to be reopened

Urszula and Veronica Nowak enjoy the novelty of the old train.

Urszula and Veronica Nowak enjoy the novelty of the old train.

IT was full steam ahead for a historic train that ran between Maryborough, Ballarat and Geelong on Sunday as the Rail Revival Alliance ramped up a campaign to reopen the closed Geelong-Ballarat-Bendigo train lines.

The Goldfields rail line was closed in the 1970s and replaced with buses. But the Greens Party and rail alliance are now calling to reopen the Goldfield Rail Line to link Geelong, Ballarat, Maryborough, Castlemaine and Bendigo with a regular cross-state passenger service. 

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said that since the closure of the rail line there had been an unprecedented population growth in the Goldfields area and buses were struggling to keep pace with the demand. 

Mr Barber rode the 90-year-old train with more than 60 people, which also marked 140 years since the opening of a rail line between Castlemaine and Maryborough. 

Rail alliance member and Ballarat resident Tracie Griffiths boarded the train in Ballarat.

“At the moment, if I want to catch the train to Bendigo I have to catch a train to Melbourne then to Bendigo." - Tracie Griffiths

The Soldiers Hill resident and PhD student said there was an increasingly unmet demand in public transport services in the region for people wanting to travel to larger regional cities or to smaller towns like Meredith and Bannockburn. 

“At the moment, if I want to catch the train to Bendigo I have to catch a train to Melbourne then to Bendigo,” Ms Griffiths said. “Riding a train is completely different to riding a bus. On a bus you aren’t able to study because you will probably get motion sickness or even just absorb and enjoy your surroundings like you can on a train.” 

A state government Rail Revival Feasibility Study conducted last year estimated the cost of a full reopening would be between $760 million and $935 million.

But rail alliance president and engineer Noel Laidlaw also completed an independent study, which found reopening the line to a basic service would cost around $90 million.

He maintains 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, a view that is backed by the Greens Party. 

The first stage of the project would be reopening the Geelong to Ballarat rail line, with new low-cost stations at Bannockburn and Meredith.

The second stage would involve repairing and rebuilding the train line between Maryborough and Castlemaine and the establishment of faster services that would continue on existing tracks to Bendigo.

Greens candidate for Wendouree Alice Barnes and Liberal candidate for Ripon Louise Staley also attended the event.

Ms Barnes said there was a growing need for a service that allowed fast and frequent travel between regional cities for work, education health and recreation.

“It also has the ability to completely revitalise all those small towns in between regional cities,” she said.

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