BENDIGO mayor Margaret O’Rourke says the Melbourne Airport Rail Link project must include a connection to regional centres, with the council to lobby to ensure Bendigo is part of the link.

The federal government last week announced it would contribute $5 billion to the development of a rail link to the Tullamarine complex.

Public Transport Victoria has long been investigating the possibility, with four routes drawn up as potential options as part of its overall Network Development Plan in 2013.

The base case developed by PTV would use existing tracks to Albion station in Melbourne’s west, connecting with the broad gauge line between Albion and Jacana before travelling to the airport.

Another would use the Craigieburn line to Broadmeadows, with two more direct and more costly options to tunnel through Maribyrnong.

In the 2017-18 state budget, the state government committed $10 million towards a business case for the Melbourne Airport rail link. The federal government subsequently committed $30m to the business case in its 2017-18 federal budget.

Victorian public transport minister Jacinta Allan said the airport link the state government will pursue an option with “really strong links to regional Victoria”.

“There is already extensive planning work and it was announced in November last year, the premier made it very clear the government was committed to an airport rail link,” she said.

“But we were committed to an airport rail link that was about maximising the number of passengers who would use that service.”

Cr O’Rourke, in her role with Regional Cities Victoria as chair, said she would lobby for the rail link to include regional centres.

“We’ve seen a number of options put forward regarding potential routes, including direct tunnels under Melbourne,” she said.

“Let’s be clear: the route must connect into the regional network and the best way to do this is via a new train hub at Sunshine, which would link to our major regional centres.”

Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh also released a statement pushing for the state and federal governments to include Victoria’s west in any airport link.

Commuters had already received one boost this week, with an update on improvements to mobile connectivity on V/Line trains.

The state government says all V/Line trains will have mobile signal boosters installed by the end of the year. The program is being run in conjunction with major mobile service providers to build new towers along regional lines.

Passengers that catch a train fitted with a booster will know they have access to better coverage with stickers to be placed in carriages.

Meantime, upgrades to Bendigo and Eaglehawk stations are taking shape with designs released last week.

A new pedestrian bridge, elevator shafts, stairs and ramps are due to be in place at Bendigo station by October after the state government awarded the design and construction tender to Downer Group.

VicTrack believes disruption to rail services over the months of construction can be minimised by building the major items of the project off-site, and then lowering them into place by crane over consecutive nights or a weekend.

At Eaglehawk, the platform will be lengthened and 60 more car parks added.

“We want to encourage more people to use the station and we recognise we also have to make that a better space for passengers to come in and out of,” Ms Allan said.

– Joel Peterson