The prayers of Ballarat commuters have finally been answered with a huge commitment to the Ballarat train line in the state government’s 2016-17 budget.
In a massive boost for local commuters, $518 million will be put towards an upgrade to the Ballarat rail line that has carried severe performance issues over the past nine months.
The upgrade includes a much needed stretch of duplicated rail from Deer Park to Melton, alongside the addition of several passing loops along the corridor.
The investment is expected to allow for a more reliable and less congested service than the one Ballarat commuters have been exposed to since the opening of the much maligned Regional Rail Link last June.
The duplication of a 17-kilometre section of single track between Deer Park West and Melton is the first step towards future electrification of the line to Melton.
Three kilometres of track west of Warrenheip will also be duplicated, and three additional crossing loops will be built at Bacchus Marsh, Ballan and near Bungaree.
The loops will provide more ways for trains to pass each other, meaning less delays to the line that has been suffering from severe punctuality issues.
Wendouree MP Sharon Knight said she would be “watching closely” to ensure works begin as soon as possible, with Minister for Public Transport Jacinta Allan confirming 2019 as an expected finish date for construction, but said the short term priority remains with increasing carriage numbers on the Ballarat line.
"Now that we have the funding in the budget we can work quickly through the tender process,” Ms Allan said.
"We will want to move as quickly as we can to 2017 to award the tender but certainly it is a big package of works with not just duplication, passing loops, extra capacity an train stations and we want to move as quickly as we can."
This package also includes two extra services in the morning and afternoon peak for the Ballarat line and a train every 40 minutes in the off-peak on the line, while there will also be an extra off-peak return service each weekday for the Maryborough line.
More than $280 million will be invested in 27 new V/Locity carriages to allow space for 2000 extra passengers across the regional V/Line network.
Committee for Ballarat chair Janet Dore was ecstatic with the investment.
“This is a substantial commitment from the state government to the region as a whole, and in particular, regional rail infrastructure,” Ms Dore said.
“The moment is now, now is our time.”
Regular Ballarat commuter Joseph Van Dyk described the commitment as “impressive”.
“We need to ensure that it’s built on time and that short cuts are not taken and that there is minimal delays through this construction,” Mr Van Dyk said.
“It will go some way to mending the relationship with commuters in Ballarat and the state government.”
Ballarat MP Joshua Morris said the announcement was welcome news for Ballarat’s frustrated commuters.
“Passengers who have been inconvenienced over the past months should welcome today's announcement.,” Mr Morris said.