The announcement yesterday that the State Government has made an in-principle commitment to an interlinked airport rail is much bigger news than many people, perhaps particularly a non-flying public will realise.
This is a great stamp of approval for the Rail Futures Institute, who first mooted the idea, a win for all those who advocated for the idea including the Committee for Ballarat and The Courier but most of all this is a clear win in priorities for the people of Ballarat.
The reason the choice of an airport link that is interconnected with regional rail is so critical is it sets the groundwork for a broader network that has regional fast rail as a priority but also commits to dedicated tracks for metropolitan and regional lines to carry the growing number of trains as they come under increasing patronage growth pressure.
The duplication to Melton now underway is a welcome start but the full quadruplification and electrification to Melton (even Bacchus Marsh) must be part of this plan to accommodate the exploding growth to the west of Melbourne.
A single light rail on a dedicated track might serve the airport traffic (the largest city in the world without a rail service to its airport knows it is decades overdue) but a heavy rail link not only gives it interconnectivity with the existing metropolitan system but the whole state. If decentralisation and whole of state growth is the aim, the connectivity is vital.
This includes efficient and alternative transport links to a congested Melbourne where road alone has passed being the optimum form of getting around.
Ballarat is almost the best placed regional city to benefit from this growth and should seize every opportunity that both feeds its own growth but also advocates for the planning and infrastructure to make it sustainable and comfortable.
True, the massive plan is only at early stages and will take a commitment from multiple levels of Government.
So for now the planning money from the Federal Government is step in the right direction. But it also needs to be something where parties are not afraid to commit to important long-term ideas even if exact execution and timelines remain unsure. Major infrastructure, not just rail, demands this long term vision and a bipartisan approach, to avoid the myopic curse of election cycles.
Transport infrastructure demands thinking decades in advance because the population growth will be way in front of it. The quandary and backlog we face now is the failure to have this cohesive and forward thinking for decades.
The gap is the difference between successful regions and declining isolation.