THE State Government’s dedication to Gippsland rail services has been labelled “disgraceful”, after announcing it had allocated less than one per cent of country rail maintenance funding to the region.
In a statement from Transport Minister Terry Mulder, outlining government’s commitment to returning sidelined trains east of Traralgon, Mr Mulder said it had spent $6.5 million on rail renewals and maintenance on the Gippsland V/Line services over the past two years.
However that figure comes from a total allocated statewide spend of $670.3 million on country rail maintenance and renewal over five years from 2011-12 to 2015-16.
The $6.5 million figure includes $2.4 million in reactive spending on emergency reparations to a sunken section of track in the Morwell River Wetlands, which closed the line east of Moe for six weeks last year.
Rail services east of Traralgon were suspended indefinitely last month, forcing commuters to catch connecting coach services from Bairnsdale and Sale, after it was found trains were not activating crossing signals on approach.
Public Transport Users Association regional spokesperson Paul Wescott said the government’s attempt to show its commitment to Gippsland commuters had revealed how “extremely small” its funding contributions had been so far.
“This is a great example of a ‘lies, damn lies and statistics’; they are trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill here, but that’s pretty hard when their own numbers aren’t very impressive,” Mr Wescott said.
The Gippsland V/Line service is the worst performing regional rail line in the state, which has consistently failed to meet performance targets since the beginning of publicly available records in 2006.
Mr Wescott said he believed the media release came in an effort to dampen speculation the government was secretly hoping to close the Bairnsdale section of the service “by neglect”, a suspicion strongly quelled by the release.
“Deputy Premier and Member for Gippsland South Peter Ryan and Member for Gippsland East Tim Bull have both stressed to me how much East Gippslanders use and appreciate their V/Line trains,” Mr Mulder said in the statement.
“With some trains failing to trigger level crossing flashing lights and boom barriers in sufficient time to give road users adequate warning, V/Line had to withdraw the trains. Transport Safety Victoria backed V/Line’s actions.”
Mr Mulder said V/Line was investigating the use of a track grinding machine to ensure the presence of a train could be detected in sufficient time to give road users warning of an approaching train.
“A longer term solution may require the installation of track side axle counters as already used on the Pakenham to Traralgon line. V/Line has to fully investigate this and report to Public Transport Victoria on what is safe, feasible and cost effective,” he said.
A spokesperson for Mr Mulder said government would find the money required to return the trains to the Bairnsdale service. He said the Gippsland line could still become subject to additional upgrades in coming years, adding the service would benefit from 40 extra carriages currently under construction, which would begin to hit the regional network at the end of 2014.