Making the Case for Fast Regional Rail

Making the Case for Fast Regional Rail

Published 6 March 2019, The Courier, Ballarat

Can you imagine a future when there are more frequent services to and from Melbourne that are reliably under an hour? And services to and from Melbourne Airport are under an hour?

This reality is within our grasp and it could all happen within 10 years.

Committee for Ballarat has made the duplication of the rail line between Ballarat and Melbourne a key priority for some time. It will continue to be a major focus of Committee’s work in the foreseeable future.

The advocacy and commitments of the state government to date have been extremely pleasing, with significant changes currently taking place on the Ballarat line. In the past four years, over $700 million has been outlaid exclusively for the duplication of the Ballarat corridor. This is compared to nothing in the previous 100 years,outside the essential Bracks fast rail line upgrade across the VLine network.

Why is the membership of Committee passionate about the connectivity between Ballarat and Melbourne?

It’s all about freedom. Freedom to quickly and efficiently move for work and recreation. Freedom for people in Melbourne to work and study in Ballarat as well as visit our beautiful city. It’s also about economic development, where meetings in Melbourne or access to the airport can be undertaken easily and efficiently via fast rail services. We then become attractive to the knowledge sector.

When the more frequent rail services are reliably under an hour, Ballarat will no longer be considered a regional visit “now and then” because it is so far away; it will be an accessible and vibrant destination for many visitors to enjoy.

Currently, many Ballarat people are dissuaded from travelling to Melbourne by train due to delays, too many stops on the trip, works and timetabling. In the next 10 years, those restraining factors will have disappeared and the freedom to move quickly and efficiently by public transport will be the accepted norm.

Today, there are people and businesses thinking about relocating to Ballarat. Duplication of the track, a sub-hour service, and more frequent services with mobile connectivity has been a game-changer for them.

Some Ballarat businesses are under pressure to move facilities outside of Ballarat. We, as a community, cannot let this happen. More reliable fast rail on a duplicated line will go a long way to mitigating those decisions. We need increased economic development.

Victoria has almost the same size of land area as the UK. As England has cities such as Manchester, Southampton and others operating as economic powerhouses, there is no reason why Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Greater Shepparton and Latrobe City could not be major drivers of economic development in Victoria. Ballarat is a prosperous regional city, the second-largest in the state, and we have wonderful liveability.

It may have been missed in the “hurly burly” of last year’s state election, but one of the key commitments of a re-elected Andrews government was outlined by then Transport Minister Allan in a press release on October 17:

“Our regional cities will be a vital part of delivering this work. To ensure this overhaul is done in partnership, the Andrews Labor government will sign an agreement with the City of Greater Geelong, and seek a similar agreement with other regional cities, to work together in delivering fast rail.”

Regional areas need to shape their future with their own hands. We cannot just wait in line for future governments to “give us a handout”. The unifying force the key Victorian cities have with the state and federal governments is fast rail on duplicated lines. The cities of Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Greater Shepparton and Latrobe and numerous advocacy groups are working together to bring this dream to reality. It is a test for these five key regional areas, with early indicators being very positive.

The Regional Fast Rail Alliance has taken up the state government’s expressed desire to work with regional cities to establish public private partnerships to facilitate the development of fast rail services.

Committee for Ballarat has endorsed this move. The example of the proposed Melbourne to Tullamarine public private partnership arrangements, which are to be announced soon, will see the airport link become a reality. The RFRA will be looking to this model/example to assist in the funding of regional to make it a reality.

Ballarat, and regional Victoria, are on the cusp of something that will be a true game-changer.

In conclusion, Michael Deegan, ex-CEO of Infrastructure Australia, has been quoted in a recent letter regarding the Regional Fast Rail Alliance:

“To capture a genuine partnership with the community, other government departments, institutions and the private sector will be ground breaking and a signpost for many others. It will be transformative for the people you represent and the nation.”

Nick Beale
Chair, Committee for Ballarat