The state government has conceded the electrification of the Melton rail line will have to wait up to a decade, with the completion of the massive Metro Tunnel project first required to enhance the capacity of Melbourne’s train network.
Melbourne’s current network is struggling to cope with rising demand and has little capacity to take on more regional services, with the $10.9 billion Metro Tunnel to take the Cranbourne-Pakenham and Sunbury lines off the City Loop and divert them onto a dedicated line through the CBD – in doing so creating room for more services.
The project is set for a 2026 completion date, effectively meaning a 10-year wait before one of Melbourne's fastest-growing and most public transport-starved areas can be properly addressed.
Electrification of the Melton line was heavily touted in the lead-up to this year’s state budget, but the ensuing $518 million commitment to duplicate a 17.5-kilometre section of track between Deer Park west and Melton will ready the section for future treatment.
Electrification would drastically reduce commuter congestion on trains from Ballarat and allow for more services into Melbourne.
It was given a 10-15 year time frame in Infrastructure Victoria’s draft 30-year plan, but listed as a priority alongside the Metro Tunnel by Infrastructure Australia last year, which recommended a five to 10 year time frame.
Despite the wait, the door remains open for rail improvement between Ballarat and Melton.
Total duplication to Ballarat was a concerning omission from the report, given Victoria in Future’s forecast for Ballarat’s population to swell from 93,501 to 160,000 by 2040.
Committee for Ballarat chair Janet Dore remains resolute in her call for more current treatments to the Ballarat line.
“It's quite obvious that growth in Ballarat is putting pressure on our line,” she said.
“The government has to commit to get jobs here to improve congestion – or it has to improve the rail line.”
Public Transport Users Association Ballarat convener Ben Lever said the electrification wait was unsurprising.
“The populations of Melton and other western suburbs have grown dramatically, and they are expected to keep growing. Adding them to the Metro network will help provide a more reliable and less-crowded service, both for locals and Ballarat commuters,” he said.