VICTORIAN public transport minister Jacinta Allan will seek a meeting with new deputy prime minister Michael McCormack to avoid another “unnecessary” hold up to planned regional rail works.
It comes as upgrades to a busy East Bendigo level crossing were completed this week, on a section of track slated for $91 million worth of improvement under the state government’s proposed regional rail revival plan.
The Powell Street level crossing was described as unsafe by community members, and upgraded among 52 across the state being improved by the state government.
The crossing now has boomgates as well as flashing lights and bells, and follows upgrades at the nearby Heinz Street crossing.
Axle counters have also been installed at the crossing, necessary after a crossing failed to activate for a passing train in 2017.
That saw Echuca services replaced by coaches for several weeks.
Ms Allan says detailed planning is continuing for the proposed $91 million of work on the Bendigo to Echuca line, to allow trains to run at higher speeds and with greater frequency.
But she admits the $1.45 billion worth of funding, primarily dependent on the federal government releasing funds from the sale of the Port of Melbourne, is still up in the air.
The government made an in-principle agreement to release the funds with former transport minister Darren Chester, who was replaced in the role by former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce.
Mr McCormack took on the role after this week’s Nationals leadership ballot, and Ms Allan says she is hopeful to get a deal back on track.
“It has been a challenge. We fought really hard to secure this funding for Victoria and particularly for regional Victoria and regional passenger rail,” she said.
“I was pleased to reach agreement with the former, former infrastructure minister Darren Chester before Christmas before he was no longer in the position.
“Since then, we now have another infrastructure minister that I need to continue to work with, because we do need to see those funds released.”
The program of works is for areas across the state, largely focussing on Gippsland and the Geelong region. Ms Allan says she is confident that it is just a hold up, and the consistent delays since it was announced at last year’s state budget do not spell the end of the line for the project.
Ms Allan said she had a conversation about the program with Mr Joyce only a fortnight ago and will follow up with the Mr McCormack, as soon as possible.
“At this stage I would prefer to see this just as a hold up, and can I say an unnecessary hold up,” she said.
– Joel Peterson