VICTORIAN public transport minister Jacinta Allan is preparing to negotiate with the third federal infrastructure minister in the space of two months in an attempt to lock in $1.42 billion for regional rail upgrades.
Ms Allan spoke with former infrastructure minister Barnaby Joyce two weeks ago, and met his predecessor Darren Chester in December, in an attempt to have the funding released.
She is now keen to see new infrastructure minister Michael McCormack “sign on the dotted line” and has requested a meeting.
The rail projects include $91 million for the line from Bendigo to Echuca, $555.6 million for the Ballarat line, $435 million for the Gippsland line and $140 million for the north east line.
The state government announced the projects in the state budget in April, believing it would receive $1.45 billion from the federal government’s asset recycling scheme following the Port of Melbourne sale.
Mr Chester gave “in-principle” support for the funding, which would come out of the infrastructure budget rather than asset recycling.
Ms Allan said the agreement has now been “held up” because of the rotation of infrastructure ministers.
“We almost reached agreement with the former… infrastructure minister Darren Chester,” she said.
“That agreement has been held up, it’s been held up in my view unnecessarily.
“We really do need the new infrastructure minister, the new deputy prime minister, just to recognise that this money needs to flow to Victoria.
“I now will be seeking a further meeting and follow-up with the new infrastructure minister Michael McCormack as soon as possible, to release these funds.”
Mr Chester was dropped as infrastructure minister in December and replaced by Barnaby Joyce. Mr Joyce’s move to the backbench last week resulted in Mr McCormack becoming the new infrastructure minister.
The Commonwealth initially agreed to fund $887 million, before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull agreed to fund the full amount in June. The state government is now waiting for the funds to be released.
A spokesperson for Mr McCormack said the federal government remained committed to providing the funding.
“The Australian Government remains committed to the $1.57 billion Victorian Regional Rail Revival package, to which it has made a firm commitment of $1.42 billion,” she said.
“Project scope for the Regional Rail Revival package is close to being finalised, and the deputy prime minister looks forward to discussing with Minister Allan in coming weeks.”
Fare reduction for regular V/Line users
The state Labor government has opened its election pitch for regional rail users with a discount on myki fares for the 28-69 day pass.
Jacinta Allan announced on Wednesday that users of the ticket on the V/Line network will receive the same reduced rate as those who purchase the 70-325 day pass.
The changes come in on March 1. Users with a current 28-69 day pass will be reimbursed the difference.
About 13,500 regional customers purchase the ticket at least once a year.
Ms Allan said the changes stemmed from commuter feedback from its 2015 regional development network plan.
“One of the issues that was identified pretty consistently around the state was the issues around ticketing and fares, and fare structures,” she said.
“We’ve taken that feedback on board and recognised that, with this change to the myki pass system, we can make it cheaper and fairer for our regular regional public transport passengers to have access to our network.”
Shadow public transport minister David Davis said V/Line services were increasingly late across Victoria.
“In the year to November 2017, no regional rail line has achieved anywhere close to the 92 per cent benchmark across Victoria. The average punctuality for the entire regional rail network over the year was 84.2 per cent,” he said.
Ms Allan said there were “month to month” challenges in running the V/Line network, and the government had provided “hundreds more services”.