Gippsland rail upgrade deadline push

Federal Infrastructure Minister and Gippsland MP Darren Chester has called for State and Commonwealth governments to set a 1 July deadline to reach a funding agreement for the much vaunted Gippsland rail project.

Mr Chester has called for the two tiers of government to sit down and reach an agreement after the Federal Government on Tuesday announced $195 million for the project in the 2017/18 budget.

The figure falls well short of $435 million the State Government wants from the Federal Asset Recycling Initiative for the project.

Tuesday’s announcement from the Federal Government is part of a $500 million package for Victorian passenger rail.

But Mr Chester said for any deal to be done the State Government would need to invest its own funds.

“I’m looking forward to negotiating with the State Government on a deal to get work underway in Gippsland,” he said.

“If the premier is fair dinkum about investing in Gippsland rail he’ll have to put some money on the table and we can work together to develop the improved service that people in Gippsland want.”

The Infrastructure Minister said he wanted to sit down with State Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan and work out a deal.

He called for a deadline of 1 July to reach an agreement.

At the end of last month the State Government announced the Gippsland rail upgrade as part of a statewide $1.45 billion package.

The State Government said the rail plan would be fully funded by federal money it said it was owed through the asset recycling initiative.

Today, Ms Allan said the funding announced by the Federal Government would not give Gippslanders the service they need.

“Of course we will discuss funding for regional Victoria (with the Federal Government) but our starting point is this is a $1.45 billion package of works,” Ms Allan said.

“For Gippsland, what the upgrade means is jobs… I want to get that project going as quickly as possible.

“We can’t do $435 million worth of work with $195 million in funding and we know that it’s $435 million that’s needed to deliver the extra services.”

State Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing agreed, saying the budget showed the “Coalition doesn’t care about Victoria when it can give New South Wales billions or that Gippsland’s elected representative can’t deliver for the people who sent him to Canberra”.

The budget also contained $2.3 million for Gippsland road upgrades from the Federal Black Spot Program.

This included $200,000 to install new crossings and bike lane markings on Kay Street, Traralgon between Breed and Lafayette streets and $230,000 for new splitter islands and traffic humps in Morwell on Buckley, Collins, Church and Hoyle streets and Hopetoun Avenue.

In addition, $210 million was included for the Traralgon-Sale Princes Highway duplication with $31 million to be provided in 2017-18 to continue work west of Sale.

For more see tomorrow’s Express.