THE state opposition has presented a $19 billion rip-it-up and start-again regional rail plan that includes a 70-minute service between Bendigo and Melbourne.
Visiting Bendigo on Wednesday, National leader Peter Walsh said a 70 minute rail trip to Melbourne was possible as part of a European-style rail overhaul, but it would entail upgrading all track between Bendigo and Melbourne, and the re-duplicating of most of it.
The coalition had similar enticements for voters in Geelong, promising trips to Melbourne will shorten to 32 minutes, from Ballarat to 45 minutes, Shepparton to 117 minutes, Echuca to 160 minutes and Swan Hill to 179 minutes.
Mr Walsh also evoked the romance of European fast rail travel in an appeal to the coalition’s middle income voter base, but declined to provide more details on the coalition rail plan when asked to do so.
“The people who have been helping us put this together have been providing the detail that sits behind it, what we are focusing on today is the benefit to people,” he said.
Nationals Bendigo East candidate Gaelle Broad was more emphatic.
“We are not just tinkering around the edges, we are trying to fix a broken system, we are saying something new and bigger is needed to transform the state,” she said.
Public Transport minister and Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan, said the plan was light on detail and the coalition untrustworthy when it came to spending on regional rail.
As the upcoming election showed the first signs of life six weeks out from the start of pre-polling and just four weeks before nominations close, there is also the prospect the Liberals will yet field a candidate in Bendigo West, with Bendigo East candidate Ian Ellis suggesting an announcement was imminent.
The seat is held by Labor’s Maree Edwards, with a 12.2 per cent margin on a two-party-preferred basis.
The coalition claims the project is fully costed, fully funded and will be delivered if they are elected on November 24.
“It is about getting cars off the road, getting that European experience, those people who go to Europe on holidays always come back and talk about the train systems they utilised over there,” Mr Walsh said.
Shortened travel times will depend on trains reaching speeds of up to 200 kilometres per hour, requiring a rebuild of much of Victoria’s class one track.
It will also see separate tracks built for regional trains into Melbourne, “avoiding a dump and run at the end of the suburban network”.
Labor is offering a different scenario of creating major connection hubs, including at Sunshine for north and western regional passengers with links to Tullamarine Airport and into the city.
Ms Allan has also made an election commitment to spend millions upgrading the Bendigo to Kyneton track, but again this week stopped short of promising to reduplicate the line.
Her Liberal opponent in Bendigo East Mr Ellis said he was in favour of complete duplication but when asked if any infrastructure would be reused under the coalition plan, he said he would “leave that up to the engineers”.
Greens candidate Laurie Whelan said he would have liked to have heard a commitment that the Bendigo to Kyneton track would be completely reinstated.
Mr Whelan said he welcomed the funding commitment from the coalition but while travel speed was fine, train frequency and reliability were what commuters really wanted.
The Greens are planning to release their own public transport strategy.