BALLARAT’S gain could be the south-west’s loss after the nation’s peak infrastructure body listed the Ballarat Rail Line upgrade as a ‘priority project’ for Australia over the next 15 years.
A report released on Friday by Infrastructure Australia said the line duplication needed significant investment to provide access for growing populations in Melton, Bacchus Marsh and Ballarat.
But despite backing the Ballarat upgrade, Infrastructure Australia has thrown cold water on a similar upgrade of the rail line from Geelong to Warrnambool, saying the business case does not stack up.
Both the state and federal government’s have committed to funding both projects, with the Ballarat line upgrade already underway and the Geelong upgrade slated to begin in 2020.
The state government will fund $146 million of the planned Geelong upgrade and wants the federal government to provide the remaining $550 million.
The federal government has already committed $502 million to the Ballarat project and the state government $55 million. However, the state government says it is still yet to see the funds.
Infrastructure Australia acting chief executive Anna Chau said with the Ballarat line already at capacity during peak times, passenger crowding was affecting the reliability of services.
"V/Line reported that the number of rail trips on the Ballarat Line grew from approximately 1.5 million in 2005-06 to 3.4 million in 2014-15 – up 9.5 per cent annually,” Ms Chau said.
Ms Chau said rail services between Ballarat and Melbourne are reaching capacity in the morning and afternoon peak periods, with no spare seats on most trains.
"As Melbourne's population continues to grow, links to outer urban areas and satellite cities like Ballarat will be increasingly critical,” she said.
"Infrastructure Australia is confident that the proposed upgrade would allow additional services to run on the Ballarat Line, providing passengers with more reliable and less crowded trips.”
Ms Chau said the business case of a duplicated 18km of track between Deer Park and Melton returned a cost benefit ratio of 1.1, whereas the 13km upgrade from South Geelong to Waurn Ponds returned a benefit of just 0.6.
The report concludes; “that on balance, the project will deliver marginal net economic benefits to Australia. The economic and strategic case for the project is the strongest for works to the east of Melton, where growth is expected to be higher”.
Committee For Ballarat chair Nick Beale said he was delighted with the news that the duplication was now at the top of the priority list.
“This is a massive achievement for our members and for the whole of Ballarat and region and we wish to thank the numerous departments and ministers that we have worked with for this recognition of what has been a long outstanding matter,” Mr Beale said.
Federal Infrastructure Minister, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack said the federal government remained committed to duplicating the track at Geelong.
"A decision by Infrastructure Australia not to include a project on the Infrastructure Priority List does not preclude the Australian Government from investing in the project," he said.