Regional Rail Connectivity Project gets the green light

Commuters on the Ballarat train line are set to experience unprecedented phone signal improvement after the state government gave the green light to the $18 million mobile service upgrade along the state’s five busiest V/Line train routes.  

Signal: Committee for Ballarat chief executive Melanie Robertson (left) and chairman Janet Dore (right) with Telstra area general manager Steve Tinker.  Picture: Kate Healy.

Signal: Committee for Ballarat chief executive Melanie Robertson (left) and chairman Janet Dore (right) with Telstra area general manager Steve Tinker. Picture: Kate Healy.

The Regional Rail Connectivity Project, which is being funded in conjunction with a consortium made up of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, will provide a major boost to phone service along the Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Traralgon and Seymour lines. 

The first stage of the project will involve installing in-train technology which will boost signal throughout the train itself, which will boost signal along the Ballarat line to 95 per cent immediately for Telstra customers.

The three telcos will then install base stations along each of the five lines, with 4GX signal along the Ballarat service to eventually reach 99 per cent for customers of all three major companies.  

Committee for Ballarat chairman Janet Dore said the issue was one of vital importance for Ballarat commuters and said the investment would play a crucial role in helping attract professionals to regional Victoria.   

“Committee has been after this for a long time as part of the wider connectivity issue and we don’t care which government does it, as long as it gets done,” Ms Dore said.  “If we want the regions to really take the load off Melbourne then this is key.

“So often we see people who get jobs up here have a partner who still have to go back to Melbourne, and it would be the same for people in other major regional cities around Victoria.” 

While a specific time frame for the upgrade roll-out is currently unclear, trials of the in-train technology are currently being undertaken on VLocity trains.  

Telstra area general manager Steve Tinker said the base stations would start rolling out once the in-train technology was installed across the V/Line fleet. 

Mr Tinker said Telstra would be installing 18 new base stations across the state, providing regional commuters with near-complete mobile coverage across their journey. 

“Because of our existing infrastructure we will have about 95 per cent of the journey covered once the in-train technology is established...it’s just really exciting to see the project coming to life now.”  

Optus also confirmed it would be building base stations at Ballan, Maddingley, Ingliston and Ironbark, all along the Ballarat line.  

The project has been in the state government pipeline for well over a year now after it was first announced in November 2015. 

The government had initially intended on having construction of base stations begin in mid-2016, with the aim of removing mobile blackspots along the Ballarat line by the end of 2016. 

The project had originally focused on rolling out free W-Fi across the V/Line network under the previous Coalition government, but was scrapped in favour of the blackspot removal by Labor. 

Wendouree MP Sharon Knight said ensuring all of the major telecommunications companies were on board was the major reason the project had taken longer than expected to receive the green light. 

“To do this project properly we had to make sure that everyone who is with a major telecommunications company had access to it,” Ms Knight said.  

“It will allow people to do a bit of work when they’re on the way to the city and ultimately it’s about enticing people to make the move to Ballarat.”