V/Line would be forced to rip up millions of dollars in brand new railway sleepers if a push to return passenger trains to Western Victoria is given the green light.
V/Line is spending about $3 million replacing 7500 timber sleepers along the curved sections of the Ballarat to Ararat corridor with new concrete equivalents.
While the Ballarat to Ararat line is currently broad gauge, it would need to be converted to standard gauge in order to run passenger services to towns such as Horsham and Hamilton.
However the regular broad gauge sleepers which are being used would not be compatible with a narrower line.
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Timber sleepers are compatible with both types of track by contrast, while convertible concrete sleepers can also be purchased.
Horsham Rural City mayor Pam Clarke said the decision to install non-convertible sleepers was “really short sighted” and was “wasting a lot of money”.
“We really need to be looking towards the future because if you look to every other western country they’re investing billions in their rail network because they know it’s a safe and cheap way to get community around,” Cr Clarke said.
A feasibility study on returning passenger services to the Grampians and Barwon South West jointly funded by eight Western Victorian councils and the state government was completed in March 2017.
The document recommended spending $369 million to reintroduce passenger services to Horsham and Hamilton between 2021 and 2026, which would include the standardisation off 88 kilometres of track.
The opposition has pledged it will spend $4 million developing a formal business case for reopening the regional train lines, while the government is yet to make a commitment.
Rail Futures Institute secretary Dr Bill Russell said the majority of the regional train network was standard gauge and it was inevitable the rest of the regional network would be converted over time.
“Today more than half of the regional network is standard gauge and the reintroduction of standard gauge between Ballarat and Ararat is a must for future passenger services in Western Victoria,” Dr Russell said.
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“It’s important any works be future proofed to ensure any maintenance done now is not wasted.”
In a statement a V/Line spokesperson said the replacements were being installed “as part of our annual track maintenance to ensure the ongoing upkeep of the line”, but did not explain why non-convertible sleepers were being used.