Trains to Melbourne could take just 70 minutes as part of an Opposition pledge to build a $19 billion high-speed regional rail link if it wins November’s state election.
But the idea was rubbished by Public Transport Minister and member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan, who claimed the Liberal and National parties can’t be trusted to deliver regional transport projects.
Liberal leader Matthew Guy on Wednesday promised to build a “European-style” rail network, with trains reaching speeds of 200km/h, to encourage more people to live in country areas.
As part of the ambitious proposal, high-speed, express trains would cut the journey from Bendigo to Melbourne to 70 minutes within ten years, trains from Geelong to Melbourne would take as little as 32 minutes by 2022, while a Ballarat and Melbourne service would take 45 minutes later in the decade.
The regional rail project would be done in three stages over a decade.
Stage one, including Geelong timetable changes next year, would create more express services, cutting trip times from 58 to 50 minutes.
In August, the Labor government promised to build a $50 billion suburban rail network.
The loop will connect Melbourne’s suburban rail lines, and link with three new regional hubs at Sunshine, Broadmeadows and Clayton.
The government said the project would make travel into Melbourne and Melbourne Airport easier for those living in Bendigo and central Victoria.
Ms Allan said the Liberal National parties had closed country train lines and cut funding to V/Line during their time in government, and “can’t be trusted to do the work on the detail” of the proposal.
“Their record is one of cuts and closures. If this election is going to be a referendum on who gets the job done and who best delivers regional services then bring it on,” she said.
“It’s only on the eve of an election that the Liberal Nationals come and talk to country people about country train services hoping they can pull the wool over their eyes and make them forget the past.”
Ms Allan declined to answer questions on whether a 70-minute service to Melbourne would be feasible, instead suggesting those questions should be answered by Matthew Guy.
Project, time frame seems ‘incredibly optimistic’ – PTUA
Public Transport Users Association regional spokesman Paul Westcott said the 10-year time frame for all the proposed upgrades seemed “incredibly optimistic” and had left a many within the industry “scratching their heads”.
“We’re pleased the Coalition and the Labor government are taking regional rail seriously and making proposals but there’s no detail about whether these times are feasible, how it would be done and the cost,” he said.
Mr Westcott said the speeds touted by the Opposition would lend itself to electrification.
“I don’t know of any really high-speed trains across the world that aren’t electrified. If that’s the case it would add a huge amount of cost and time to the proposal,” he said.
Majority of track needs duplicating – Nationals
Nationals leader Peter Walsh said the “overwhelming majority” of track north of Kyneton would require duplication to achieve the 70-minute target.
Reinstating the second track north of Kyneton – removed in the mid 2000s as part of the regional fast rail project – has been mooted as a solution to improvements on the Bendigo line for a number of years.
The state government recently said it would undertake detailed planning and design work for a full upgrade of the line between Bendigo and Kyneton if re-elected in November, but fell short of committing to a full duplication of the track.
Mr Walsh said most of the Bendigo line would require significant upgrades to cater for the travel speeds of 200km/h.
“If people believe it’s over ambitious they actually haven't thought about what is possible in the future,” he said.
“It (high-speed rail) happens in other places in the world, currently we have a government which is fixated on building projects in Melbourne.”
The member for Murray Plains said improved public transport links was a key pillar of the Coalition’s decentralisation push.
Nationals candidate for Bendigo East Gaelle Broad said the project was something Victoria was crying out for.
“There’s been a complete frustration with our transport system over the years,” she said.
“We're not just tinkering at the edges, we're trying to fix a broken system, we're saying something different new and bigger is needed to really transform the state.”
The state election will be held on November 24.
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