An independent rail advocacy group has called for the Bendigo train line to be separated from the metropolitan system, in a move it says would open the door to 75-minute services to Melbourne.
Rail Futures Alliance secretary Bill Russell said while the group welcomed the state government’s budget commitments to regional rail, the alliance’s “intercity” proposal was the next logical step after the completion of the Melbourne Metro tunnel.
“We very much welcome and congratulate the government on the money in this year’s budget but we do see the need for a medium-term plan to segregate the regional and metropolitan networks completely,” he said.
“The suburban trains are really holding up the regional ones and we have to have a blueprint for overcoming that and that’s essentially a key aspect of the Rail Futures intercity proposal.”
Mr Russell said the proposal would allow for services to run at full speed between Bendigo and Melbourne, rather than being stuck behind suburban trains, shrinking the total journey time to an hour and 15 minutes.
“I think that’s not beyond what’s possible because we want to remove the bottleneck in the system and increase the average speed on the Bendigo line – by Victorian standards it’s quite good at the moment, but not by international standards,” he said.
“Although our Bendigo line and other trains perform quite well in terms of their average speeds once they leave Sunbury and so on, as they get to Sunbury they’re slowed down by the suburban trains.”
As part of the intercity plan, Mr Russell said the alliance was also calling for the reopening of the Bendigo to Ballarat line, via Bridgewater and Maryborough.
“We believe it should be reopened because that would not only allow passenger trains to run between Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong, it would also, very importantly, give all the defence industries in Bendigo direct access to the standard gauge rail network,” he said.
A spokeswoman for public transport minister Jacinta Allan said while there were no plans to repair and re-open the Inglewood to Bridgewater line, the option to do so was being protected in case it was required in future.
“We're always looking to improve services for regional Victorians – we've already started making a huge investment in the Bendigo/Echuca line that will make a real difference for local passengers, with more trains, more often to get them home sooner,” she said.
“We’re also boosting the frequency of services for Bendigo line passengers by providing 18 additional train services each week from August.”