The future is looking bright for Benalla’s train passengers after State and Commonwealth governments came to a bilateral agreement to fully fund line upgrades between Wodonga and Melbourne.
An additional $135 million in funding has been earmarked for the project, which had already been awarded $100 million by the Regional Rail Revival Program.
Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allen announced the funding last week and said that the north east rail line had been neglected for too long.
‘‘I’ve been fighting to get the additional funding from the Federal Government needed to upgrade the line to a class-two track because that’s the type of track we need to run modern trains,’’ Ms Allen said.
‘‘The figure of $235 million has been identified by a technical working group made up of federal and state government representatives.
‘‘This was identified as the amount needed to get the north-east line to a class-two track like other lines in Victoria.
‘‘The original commitment was $100 million, it became apparent that wasn’t enough to do the work properly and I was determined to push to get extra funding from the Federal Government.’’
However, this point is something contested by State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan who points to a letter she received from the ARTC, which appears to imply that passenger trains can already run at 130km/h on the existing track.
In that letter John Vandervoort, Group Executive of Interstate Rail, said that express passenger trains already run on the network at 130km/h.
‘‘The north-east rail line is not class-two and is not required to be,’’ Mr Vandervoort said.
That appears to contradict information given to state and federal MPs and Ms Allen said that Ms Ryan was fully aware that the track did need to be upgraded.
‘‘(Ms Ryan saying) that makes me very angry. The member for Euroa sat in a meeting where she was told by expert engineers that you could not run new trains without the track upgrades,’’ Ms Allen said.
‘‘This is the member for Euroa that said $60 million would fix the line, she has not gone in to fight for the money for the track upgrades and she continues to deceive her community to say this.
‘‘I think it is a betrayal that the member would want to short change her electorate so dramatically.’’
To be fair to Ms Ryan and Ms Allen it is feasible that in-spite of services currently being able to reach 130km/h on the line, that modern train designs might still require a class-two rail network.
Regardless of this, the announcement has received positive reactions from politicians at federal, state and local levels.
Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan described it as a ‘‘Red Letter Day’’ for north-east Victoria.
‘‘I congratulate all those stakeholders who have fought for recognition that the north-east line could not deliver the services that rail passengers should expect. It has taken an entire community effort to fix our trains,’’ Ms McGowan said.
‘‘I have also called upon the Victorian Government to request that V/Line executives come to Indi to meet with the ARTC and community representatives to discuss the need for V/Line to increase service standards on the north-east line.
‘‘Customer experience on the north-east line over an extended period has been poor and the need for improvement is urgent.
‘‘Today’s announcement means it is imperative the scope of works for the north-east rail upgrade is released to the public now.
‘‘Community consultation must immediately follow and that will provide confidence in the transparency of the expenditure for this project.’’
Ms Ryan said the funding announcement would give all rail users in the north east something to celebrate.
‘‘I commend this investment... With proper oversight and planning, it will go a very long way to getting our train service back on track,’’ Ms Ryan said.
‘‘At a state level, the Nationals have promised to replace all the trains on both the north-east line and Shepparton lines with a new, long-haul variation on the VLocitys within our first term of government, if we are elected to government later this year.’’
With train services a hot topic leading into this year’s state election both sides of the chamber are keen to outline their commitment to improving services.
State Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes said she was proud to be part of the community’s fight for improved rail services.
‘‘We’re getting on with delivering exactly what north-east passengers need — better train services to get them where they need to go,’’ Ms Symes said.
‘‘After four federal infrastructure ministers we finally got there — and this upgrade will deliver better train services to get passengers to their destination sooner — whether that’s to work, school, medical appointments or to visit family and friends.’’
Benalla Mayor Don Firth said the importance of this funding could not be underestimated.
‘‘This announcement represents the beginning of a more connected future for those in north-east Victoria,’’ Cr Firth said.
‘‘Upgrades to the line and new rolling stock will have a great impact on our communities.
‘‘Benalla Rural City will soon be able to realise the benefit of our proximity to Melbourne as well as with regional centres, including Wangaratta, Wodonga and Albury.’’