LABOR has released its own fast rail plan in a sign faster commuter times are resonating with voters, but Bendigo has been left out of the incumbent government’s latest plans.
Instead, public transport minister Jacinta Allan, who holds her Bendigo East seat by a margin of five per cent, has looked west to Ballarat and Geelong as future commuter cities.
This week Ms Allan promised voters in those regional cities rail transport to Melbourne in less than an hour.
Two weeks ago, the coalition released its regional rail plan at a cost of $19 billion including 70-minute travel from Bendigo to Melbourne on European-style fast rail.
It’s plan was criticised for a lack of detail.
Labor’s Western Rail Plan released on Tuesday refers to a further $100 million commitment that will assess fast rail to Geelong and Ballarat, including the full separation of regional and metro services on both lines and potentially the full electrification of those lines with new electric rolling stock.
For Bendigo, the plan only goes as far as reiterating the announcement last month of three new stations as part of Bendigo metro stage three, and planning for more track capacity between Kyneton and Bendigo.
The Western Rail Plan itself says: “To facilitate fast rail to Bendigo in the future, dedicated tracks between Sunshine and Watergardens to separate Sunbury and Bendigo services are likely to be needed”.
The omission of Bendigo was noted by Labor’s election opponents and by a City of Greater Bendigo councillor James Williams, although the latter was more diplomatic at Wednesday night’s council meeting.
“I really don’t care we don’t have have fast rail because Bendigo is as good a hub as Melbourne and they will be wanting to come to Bendigo, not go to Melbourne, so don’t be despondent,” Cr Williams said.
Greens Bendigo West candidate Laurie Whelan suggested past decisions had put Bendigo’s rail well behind in Victoria.
“Was Bendigo left out of Labor’s new fast rail promises because it’s all too difficult and they are playing catch up to fix the single line from Kyneton to Bendigo?” Mr Whelan asked.
“The Labor government is hiding something or not giving the full picture of why Bendigo, the biggest inland regional city in terms of population, has been left out.
“They need to be transparent with the people of Central Victoria.”
He also queried how realistic were promises of fast rail.
“The major parties have to be more transparent with the detail and thorough planning before the election so that voters can decide the reality from the pipe dreams.” Mr Whelan said.
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry pointed out the importance of faster travel times to businesses.
“In the lead up to the state election it is great to see strong commitment from both major parties to improve Victoria’s transport system, so our state can live up to its reputation as a great place to live and do businesss,” said VCCI chief executive Mark Stone AM.
Liberal candidate in Bendigo East Ian Ellis said $150m promised by the state government was to complete the business case and technical work for fast rail.
“Please tell me there is some actual construction work in this $150m spend,” he said.
“I feel the need to remind our current city centric transport minister that she is meant to represent Bendigo East, first and foremost, and that Shepparton, Mildura, Echuca, Wodonga, Traralgon and numerous others are regional towns and cities, and they do not seem to rate a mention in this plan.”
Nationals candidate Gaelle Broad also highlighted Bendigo’s omission.
“There’s a lot more to regional Victoria than Geelong and Ballarat,” she said.
“Once again, this government is focused on Ballarat, while Bendigo gets left behind.”
– Sharon Kemp