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The tunnel builds capacity

12 Feb 2020

Thank you to all members and stakeholders who attended the Regional Rail briefing at Housey Housey on Tuesday 10 February. Thank you especially to John Hearsch (Rail Futures Institute) and Luke Fraser (Juturna Consulting) for their detailed presentations and significant insights.

Why is a tunnel so important?
It may not be easy to immediately understand why 6-7 kms of rail tunnel is so important to the future of our region. Here’s why.....

Of the solutions currently on the table, the tunnel is the only one that enables the greater capacity, at the Southern Cross end of the line, required to meet the needs of a booming population.

Without greater capacity our rail network will all too soon look like our road network.

The tunnel will take airport and regional trains underground, through the most heavily congested corridor (Sunshine to Southern Cross). This frees up the above ground lines for the inevitable growth in Metro services Melton, Wyndham Vale and all that is in between.

In order to ease the growing congestion, greater capacity is required. This means more lines. The only viable option for more lines, given the density of population in this corridor, is to go underground.
If the solution to ‘greater capacity’ was above ground, we would be looking at mass compulsory acquisition of both private and commercial land through Footscray and the inner western suburbs.

Rail is an economic driver for our City
I understand the argument that enabling fast rail has the potential for Ballarat to become a commuter suburb of Melbourne. I commuted for 16 years to Melbourne. I continued to pay rates in Ballarat, shop in Ballarat, use local business for most of my needs, played sport, coached, volunteered for many community organisations and invited many of my Melbourne friends to visit. I hope that my experience working away from Ballarat can contribute to what I now have to offer in the future, in this region.

Fast regional rail can energise our city and region. We will attract people who want to live here because we can offer an amazing regional lifestyle. This will create new business growth, jobs growth, greater diversity and everything else that is the hallmark of a vibrant, prosperous City of choice.

Decentralisation or regionalisation is one of the answers to a growing urban population. It’s a win-win. Great for the regions and great for Melbourne. It’s hard to imagine Melbourne, with a population of 7-8 million, continuing to be among the world’s most liveable cities. An approach to population growth that includes promoting regional living will be one of the levers to maintaining Melbourne’s appeal. Fast Regional Rail is an enabler to regional living. A tunnel is required to ease congestion through the most heavily congested corridor into the CBD.

“More than any other factor, future growth in regional cities can drive widespread change in regional areas, bringing a wider range of jobs, better services and other facilities to regional cities and surrounding towns.” (Regional Australia Institute, Regions Rising Report 2019)

Where are we at with State Government?
Committee for Ballarat and the City for Ballarat met this week with the State Minister for Transport Infrastructure, Jacinta Allan. The Minister confirmed the Governments three priorities for the rail project that includes Melbourne Airport Rail Link (MARL).

  1. Sunshine will be the hub for regional rail
  2. A rail link to Melbourne will be built
  3. Development of further Rail capacity through the west of Melbourne must include the potential for growth in regional rail, especially Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

We agree these principles.

Further, Committee for Ballarat along with Committees for Melbourne, Wyndham and Greater Shepparton, met with Hon Alan Tudge MP, Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure, two weeks ago. He supports regionalisation as a way of managing population growth in Melbourne and sees regional rail as vital to regional growth. Further, he advised that in his discussions with the state, there has been no indication the tunnel is off the agenda.

Presently, the State government is saying it is considering all options, including ones that are commercial-in-confidence and therefore cannot be shared at this stage.

What are the apparent obstacles?
What is standing in the way of a decision regarding the tunnel is that State Government believes it is simply unaffordable. In addition, the tunnel is part of a Market Led Proposal (MLP) and given recent experiences with the other major projects (West Gate Tunnel and Transurban), the government is being extremely cautious.

Next Steps
Committee for Ballarat is part of a broad coalition of Committees, LGAs and Industry Groups who have written to the Prime Minister, requesting a meeting to discuss the importance of this issue. We will continue this strong advocacy work.

Advocacy is a long game and pleasingly, the State Government acknowledges our long-term interest and work in this space. We continue to be well positioned.

The project was thrown a potential game changer this week when the private investment group IFM Investors, promised a further $2b for the project, taking their commitment to $7b. With $5b committed from the Federal Government, that makes $12b reasons why the State should back this project.

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to plan the right solution for our future generations. If we get the plan right now, 10 year-olds living in Ballarat today won’t use the road to get to Melbourne CBD or Melbourne Airport, they will get to both via train in under one hour.

 If you would like the full presentations or more information, please contact our team at Committee for Ballarat.