The Rail Futures Institute and the City of Ballarat have welcomed an economic analysis noting the benefits of fast rail to the regions.
The National Institute of Economic and Industry Research released a comprehensive and independent report on how fast rail would change regional cities over the long term, and concluded there would be massive increases in productivity.
The Stronger, Together alliance, which includes Ballarat, Geelong, Bendigo, Shepparton, and Latrobe Valley councils and lobby groups, is using the report to advocate for a new rail tunnel connecting Sunshine to Southern Cross Station - this would create more capacity for regional trains out of the city, they say.
The City of Ballarat is part of the alliance, and mayor Ben Taylor said any spending on regional rail would be encouraged and welcomed.
"We're really happy to see this report come through - I think we need to get on and start to deliver this," he said.
"The money's been allocated by the federal government, the state government's committed to it - so deliver what's needed, which is better rail services for regional Victoria, especially Ballarat."
He noted there would also be benefits for smaller, neighbouring councils, and safety benefits from less people commuting by the highway.
"Also, we're not talking one-way commuter travel, it's also Melbourne people doing business in Ballarat as well," he said.
"We have to think more broadly - especially as GovHub is finished off."
The independent Rail Futures Institute also "broadly supports" the report, president John Hearsch said.
"It shows in the right circumstances, the economics really stack up with a reasonable proportion of regional living, and where that can be developed within potential commuting distance of Melbourne," he said.
However, he noted the report, while incorporating several variables, did not focus on costs and viability of the project.
A federal Department of Infrastructure spokesperson said in a statement the Commonwealth is "working closely" with the state government on the Melbourne Airport Rail Link project.
"Our ambition for the Melbourne Airport Rail Link is to have a train journey to the airport from the city that is fast, affordable and meets the needs of travellers," they said.
"The Government has been working closely with Victoria on the design of the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, a complex and significant task, to ensure construction can get underway as soon as possible."
While not commenting on the NIEIR report, the spokesperson added the federal government's National Faster Rail Agency had begun implementing a 20-year plan to better align population growth with long-term infrastructure investment.
"A business case investigating faster rail between Melbourne and Greater Shepparton was completed in 2019 and is informing advice from the Agency to the Government about potential next steps. The Agency is also working with Victorian officials to progress faster rail business cases announced in the 2019-20 Budget for Melbourne to Traralgon and Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga," they said.
"These build on our commitments of $2 billion to support faster rail services between Melbourne and Geelong and $5 billion towards the construction of the Melbourne Airport Rail Link."
The state government has allocated $100 million over four years for the Western Rail Plan, examining how to electrify and improve lines out of Melbourne to Ballarat and Geelong, following the $500 million Ballarat Line Upgrade project.
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A spokesperson said in a statement "the Victorian Government has met with representatives of the proponents several times and shares a desire to improve regional rail services - that's why we're upgrading every regional rail line in the state and getting on with the job of delivering Melbourne Airport Rail, Geelong Fast Rail and the Western Rail Plan".
It was noted the Stronger, Together alliance's plan was conservatively estimated to cost $70 billion, if including a new rail corridor through built-up suburbs in Dandenong, more electrification and compulsory acquisition, and the replacement of the entire V/Line fleet.
However, it's understood none of the Victorian Government's current transport infrastructure projects would preclude any of the proponent's project components being undertaken in the future.
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