A bold $19 billion plan to speed up Victoria’s regional trains, which would include express 32-minute trains between Melbourne and Geelong, is at the core of Matthew Guy’s policy to decentralise the state.
The Opposition Leader has made easing the pressure from Melbourne’s booming population central to his election pitch, and on Wednesday announced a plan to “revolutionise” the regional train network so trains could travel at up to 200km/h.
Mr Guy promised to deliver a “European style” network, including express services, if the Coalition won the November 24 election.
Under the plan, every regional passenger line in the state would be rebuilt over 10 years, and two fleets of new fast trains would be ordered.
The Geelong line would be the priority, with 32-minute express services promised to be in place by 2022.
The Labor Government argued that timeline was not realistic, but Mr Guy said he was “confident” it was achievable.
Mr Guy said the project, which would cost between $15 billion and $19 billion, was about taking the population pressure off Melbourne and growing all of Victoria.
“I believe the state can’t not afford to invest in heavy rail and decentralise our population,” Mr Guy said.
“Yes, it will be expensive. We have to do this because Melbourne is growing at 2700 people a week.
“We are facing population-growth pressures like our state has never faced.
“We can’t keep doing more of the same. We need a different future, a different way forward”.
Other travel improvements promised by the Opposition include 65-minute trips from Melbourne to Traralgon, 45-minute journeys to Ballarat and 70-minute trips to Bendigo.
Centres further afield would also have services upgraded, with a pledge to reopen passenger services to places such as Donald, Mildura, Horsham and Hamilton.
Dedicated lines through Melbourne’s suburbs would need to be built for the regional trains, and Mr Guy told ABC Radio Melbourne level crossings would need to be avoided.
Mr Guy said he placed a higher priority on improving regional rail services than building Labor’s proposed suburban rail loop to link Melbourne’s suburbs, making use of the proposed Melbourne Airport rail link.
“I don’t want to focus everything on Melbourne,” he said.
The Opposition estimates its regional rail project would create 10,000 jobs.
The Coalition pitch cements infrastructure as one of the key issues at the state election, ground the Andrews Government is keen to fight on.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the Liberal Party did not have a good track record on managing regional rail services.
“Regional Victorians have very, very long memories and remember well that every time the Liberal Party are in government, they’re known for closing country train lines and cutting funding to regional country rail services, and they only come talking to people about country trains on the eve of an election,” Ms Allan said.
Ms Allan said high-speed trains to Gippsland would only be possible by expanding the elevated rail in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs, a piece of infrastructure the Coalition had campaigned against.
“You can’t run the VLocity diesel trains in a tunnel, and the Leader of the Opposition knows this,” she said.
“He’s putting a proposal to regional Victorians, [in] which I think he’s trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
The Andrews Government is spending $50 million to investigate high-speed rail to Geelong and wants to use the proposed airport rail link, which it wants to run via Sunshine, to “untangle” regional and metropolitan trains.
When Labor announced the $50 million high-speed rail study in April, the Opposition labelled it a “pipe dream”.
Earlier today Premier Daniel Andrews marked the start of the second stage of the Monash Freeway upgrade that will add 36 kilometres of new lanes.
The government says this will save motorists nine minutes in travel time.
The $711 million upgrade is jointly funded by the state and federal governments.