Rail line upgrades booked in

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More reliable train services along the Gippsland line are a step closer, with upgrades to the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines set to begin in early 2015.

The State Government has allocated $61 million for the project over four years, in a partnership with a private consortium of developers, MTR, John Holland and UGL.

A spokesperson for Transport Minister Terry Mulder said the government would move towards awarding contracts for the project, expected to cost up to $2.5 billion, in September 2014.

The project will include signal upgrades, eliminating rail crossings, and the delivery of 25 “next-generation” trains, touted to add 30 per cent extra capacity to the line.

However the privatised arrangement could come at a much greater cost to the taxpayer, with the state government due to make “availability payments” to the consortium once the project is complete.

According to leaked cabinet documents detailed by The Age newspaper, the government will have to front $360 million annually to the consortium until 2034, bringing the total cost to taxpayers, including inflation, to $5.2 billion.

Labor candidate for Morwell Jadon Mintern said the Coalition’s Pakenham corridor plan would be useless without further elimination of level crossings.

“It’s their decision not to fix (more of) the level crossings which is what prevents putting extra trains in the system,” Mr Mintern said.

“Without that, how much of their plan will improve congestion is anyone’s guess.”

The Coalition’s plan involves removing four level crossings in Murrumbeena, Carnegie and Clayton, plus planning and pre-construction funding to remove a further five level crossings.

Labor’s alternative plan involves the replacement of 50 of Melbourne’s worst level crossings, 15 of which are between Pakenham and the city.

The upgrades will begin in a year when patronage is expected to grow seven per cent on regional lines, with the budget paper estimating a jump from 14.3 to 15.3 million passengers carried every year.

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said even with the budget’s latest public transport announcements, regional services would only increase by one per cent.