Push for high-speed rail

LATROBE Valley’s future has been the subject of statewide attention this week through a renewed push for a Gippsland high speed rail route and a new report on expected population growth.

Earlier this week The Age reported Gippsland’s councils hoped to recruit new State Premier Denis Napthine to its campaign to see a proposed Gippsland high speed rail route revisited, despite a federal study having already dismissed it as too costly and environmentally sensitive.

Gippsland Local Government Network chair Richard Ellis argued, in a subsequent statement, the benefits of a Gippsland corridor “more than make up for” the negatives and those “greater benefits” had not been considered in the Federal Government study.

Stating the Gippsland route would “relieve traffic congestion” and strengthen Dandenong as a ‘central activities district’, Mr Ellis also said a “conventional high speed train stopping all stations could reach Warragul in 40 minutes and Traralgon in 58 minutes” , meaning Latrobe Valley towns could become “attractive dormitory suburbs for Melbourne workers wanting a more rural lifestyle”.

The statement said this approach aligned with the State Government’s position of “alleviating the growth pressures on metropolitan Melbourne”.

Latrobe City chief executive Paul Buckley said he believed consultants had approached GLGN to indicate it “might be worth revisiting the government on this, to have them look at the Gippsland route”.

“Based on their initial construction costings this (route) would be higher but in terms on ongoing value-adding from an economic development and productivity perspective, it would be much greater,” he said.

“Our position is that there has not been enough attention or priority given to the long-term economic benefit, versus the up-front cost… and we would be hopeful at least of a review of the previous decision.”

Mr Buckley agreed a high speed train was a “very long-term project” and though it was “still really early days”, Gippsland “needs to be involved in the discussion early.”

Meanwhile Mr Buckley said council was confident it could meet the needs of a forecast ‘high growth scenario’ population increase of about 20,000 people by 2031, outlined in research released this week by Regional Cities Victoria.

Implications of Population Growth on Infrastructure and Resources in Regional Cities, prepared by Essential Economics, revealed Latrobe could be home to as many as 96,170 residents by 2031, requiring a boost to local public transport infrastructure, an extra 27 GPs, 80 hospital beds, thousands more school and tertiary education places, almost 1500 more aged care beds and other added social infrastructure.

Latrobe, as part of RCV, formed part of its push for up to $4.4 billion to be spent on infrastructure and key services over the next 20 years to ensure regions could keep pace with forecast growth.

Mr Buckley said Latrobe’s average growth of 1.3 per cent annually in recent years was in line with other major regional cities, but added “the challenge is we need to ensure our economic growth and employment growth happen as well”.

“What this report says is that we recognise growth is occurring, we expect it to continue to occur and we want to be on the front foot to ensure we have appropriate infrastructure in place… to avoid the challenges being faced by some of the metro fringe councils…we are learning their lessons,” he added.