RAIL looms as the key election battleground this State Election and according to both major parties, Ballarat’s train services are set for a fast rail revolution, no matter who wins on November 24.
Between the Coalition’s $19 billion high speed rail promise, with the first trains to be delivered on the Geelong line by 2022, to the State Government’s $150 million plan to also start planning fast rail, on top of the ongoing $500 million to upgrade the Ballarat line as well as the $5 billion already committed to create an airport rail link through Sunshine – which seems to have bipartisan backing – there is plenty to think about.
But at the end of the day, Ballarat commuters need to answer a simple question; To get to and from work tomorrow, do you want speed or do you want reliability?
Matthew Guy has announced a $19 billion plan to create a “European-style” fast train system. It is part of the Coalition’s decentralisation push aimed at taking the pressure off an exploding Melbourne.
Mr Guy says the 10-year plan will feature European-style fast trains travelling at 200km/h, making a trip from Geelong to Melbourne in 32 minutes and from Ballarat to Melbourne in 45 minutes.
"If elected, a Liberal-Nationals government will focus on the biggest rebuild of our country rail network in our country's history," Mr Guy has said.
The Coalition has promised an initial injection of $3 billion over four years to kickstart the project, with the speedy service from Geelong expected to be achieved in that time.
Labor is more circumspect in its timeframes, but is also planning for fast rail to be a feature in the future.
The plan would see construction on the fast rail start in 2022 and take a decade to complete.
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 State Government which has already promised a $50 billion suburban rail loop and the $8-$13 billion airport rail link ($5 billion committed by the State Government).
“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.
Infrastructure Australia lists the Ballarat line upgrade as project “1.1” on its nation building agenda, but says a similar upgrade through Geelong is not as crucial.
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.
"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.
For what it’s worth, the Property Council of Australia praised both parties, but said the Coaltion plan needed more business case work.
“While the deliverability of this project is challenging given the costings and timeframe proposed, it’s encouraging to see politicians look ahead and show the courage to make tough, long-term decisions,” it said.
“The Opposition’s decentralisation policies create major opportunities for Victoria but we can’t take our eyes off the main game – which must be our ability to create great cities for current and future Victorians.”
Roads Australia, a peak national body for road and transport infrastructure, welcomed news of development in the sector but warned it was important to "clinically and critically" examine the projects to get Victorians value for money.
PTUA Ballarat convenor Ben Lever says the Labor plan seems the more realistic in terms of time frames.
“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.”
Regional Cities Victoria chair Margaret O’Rourke said whoever wins need to engage with regional cities through the planning and development process.
“Ensuring all regional cities are supported by modern, dependable passenger rail remains a key focus for RCV. Ongoing investment is required across all regional passenger train lines to deliver fast and efficient services to regional Victorians,” Cr O’Rourke said.
Committee For Ballarat chair Nick Beale said he was thrilled that both parties saw Ballarat as a priority.
“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 to Ballarat.”