Direct rail link proposed

A dedicated Regional Rail Link from Gippsland to Melbourne has been recommended for State Government consideration in a draft 30-year plan for Victoria’s infrastructure needs.

The recent Infrastructure Victoria draft report outlines an option to invest $1-3 billion for dedicated rail tracks, which would take the Gippsland regional service off the shared metropolitan network.

The report said the project would remove conflicts between regional trains and slower metropolitan services, encourage mode shift from cars and increase capacity and reliability of both regional and metropolitan services.

IV recommended the State Government investigate this need in the next five years to determine whether a major capacity increase will be required along the corridor.

“It is likely that extra capacity will be required in the latter part of the 15-30 year period or potentially beyond 30 years,” the report states.

“One solution could involve the construction of additional tracks along the corridor to support demand for increased rail services from the southeast of Melbourne and Gippsland.”

The option was opposed by a regional citizen jury – held in Shepparton bereft of Gippsland representation – in favour of a less costly shuttle service to the city from Pakenham, where regional trains would terminate.

Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the government had “no plans to stop Gippsland trains at Pakenham and make people transfer” to a metropolitan train, but the IV draft did not rule the option out.

The draft stated the Regional Rail Link was an alternative which would “eliminate the need for the Gippsland-Pakenham rail shuttle” but noted its high cost as a potential impediment.

Gippsland V/Line Users Group convener Natalie Thorne said the dedicated regional rail link with multiple lines was necessary.

“This is the bottom line for the whole of the east of Melbourne and Victoria; this is the thing that has to get done, it’s just a matter of how we’re going to do it and let’s start planning it now,” Ms Thorne said.

“It needs to be something that brings maximum benefit by allowing express services and more services to outer metro as well.”

Ms Thorne said action had to be taken now with the line projected to hit crush point in the next 10 to 15 years.

“What that means is we can’t put anymore services on, no more people can get on and our trains will continue to go at a snail’s pace behind all the metro services,” she said.

“In order to alleviate that the only way is to put in another line. What they really need to do is have four lines through there (the Dandenong corridor, as suggested by the Rail Futures Institute).

“It’s not a 30-year period, it’s a 10-15 year period; we need to do the planning now.

“There’s no way they can keep increasing capacity on the Monash (Freeway) at the rate required for the growing population for the east of Melbourne, without increasing the capacity on the railway line.”

The Pakenham shuttle option drew strong criticism from local councils, politicians and the community.

The Committee for Gippsland lodged a submission with IV on the draft 30 year-plan stating its opposition to the shuttle option and advocated constructing a third and fourth line to ease congestion once trains reached Pakenham.

Quadruplication at the choke point was also recommended by a recent RFI ‘Intercity Report’ for the future of regional rail.