A FAST rail to Ballarat is now firmly on the political agenda with the State Government committing to a $100 million election promise for detailed planning of the long-awaited project.
The plan would see construction on the fast rail start in 2022 and take a decade to complete.
It aims to reduce the commute between Ballarat and Southern Cross Station to less than an hour.
It will also see the electrification of both the Ballarat line to Melton and the Geelong line to Wyndham.
The plan would mean that instead of V/Line trains sharing tracks with city trains and being slowed down as a result, the services would run express from the city to Wyndham Vale and Melton, along the separate stretch of track, significantly increasing the capacity of both routes and reducing overcrowding.
It is part of a major public transport push by the Andrews Government which has already promised a $50 billion suburban rail loop and the $8-$13 billion airport rail link.
The announcement follows on from a $19 billion regional rail plan already announced by the Coalition that would see nearly all of V/Line's tracks rebuilt to enable 200km/h services, including express runs to firstly Geelong, and later Ballarat.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday $150 million would be spent on separating the V/Line and Metro tracks, by building brand new electric rail tracks from the city to Wyndham Vale and to Melton. $50 million was already allocated in the Victorian Budget 2018/19.
“This plan will deliver the transformation that our state needs – electrification of rail lines out to the west, and fast rail to Geelong and Ballarat, returning country rail to country communities," Mr Andrews said.
Committee For Ballarat chair Nick Beale said he was thrilled with the announcement, finally seeing the committee’s dream start to become a reality.
“The Committee for Ballarat has always advocated for a sub-hour service between Ballarat and Melbourne and today’s announcement is very exciting for Ballarat,” Mr Beale said.
“It will deliver the necessary time and reliability issues that we have on the Ballarat line.
“The two proposals put forward from both Liberal and Labor, which the committee for Ballarat have been very active in promoting with both sides of politics, means that no matter who wins the election in November we are – on promises made – guaranteed fast rail between Melbourne and Ballarat.
“We understand (Public Transport) Minister (Jacinta) Allan will be visiting Ballarat this week and will be briefing members of the Committee for Ballarat board on recent announcement.”
Earlier this month, Opposition leader Matthew Guy promised the coalition plan, which would be costed before the election, would see an initial injection of $3 billion over four years to kickstart the project.
He said the fast rail service from Geelong could be achieved by 2022.
"We will start the Geelong and Ballarat lines first, with the Geelong line to be completed in the first term principally because these are the lines under greatest congestion strain," Mr Guy said.
Pubic Transport Users Association (PTUA) Ballarat Convenor Ben Lever said the government’s announcement was something the association hoped for
“It’s great to see Labor coming to the table with another proposal for the line,” Mr Lever said.
“It’s also including the electrification along the Melton and Wyndham Vale lines something we’ve called for a long time. By splitting the two services, country commuters are greatly benefited.”
Mr Lever said of the two proposals on the table, the Labor plan has a “more realistic” timeframe. “While both are committed to adding capacity on the suburban section, neither side has said much about further duplication of the line,” he said.
The opposition says the State Government is playing catch-up with its rail plan for the west, saying Tuesday’s announcement is “policy on the run”.
Shadow opposition Transport minister David Davis said the announcement of a further $100 million to plan for the electrification of both the Ballarat and Geelong lines offered nothing in terms of real work.
“They are seeking to catch up and are only offering a plan. The government is not getting on with this the way we are,” Mr Davis said.
“We will be moving very fast to get significant improvements to the lines.
“We are not going to make country people wait on Melbourne loops. This is a city-centric government and we urgently need to get population back under government control.
“That means establishing fast, direct rail to our key regional cities.”
Mr Davis said the commitment was panicked after the Coalition announcement and offered nothing new for the rest of the state.
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