Engineering, Passenger Rail

Chester pushes Victoria to move on North East Rail upgrade

V/Line train. Photo: Victorian Government

Federal transport and infrastructure minister Darren Chester has indicated the Victorian Government will need to commit to share the cost of upgrades to the regional rail network in the state’s north-east, if the Commonwealth is to help fund the work in the upcoming budget.

Chester visited the region and rode the rails earlier this week.

He travelled with Victorian Nationals MP Steph Ryan, and Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie.

While he reported to ABC Radio there had been no issues with his trip from Southern Cross to Wangaratta, he said there were clear issues with the rail line.

“I have had the chance to speak to a lot of passengers and get a better understanding of their concerns about the times where the train service has been cancelled in the past, they have had to go on coaches, and that type of thing,” Chester told ABC on April 3.

“There are issues obviously … with the line in providing for a fairly rough ride in places and reduced speed limits.

“The rolling stock is very old. It dates back 30 or 40 years.”

Chester said his “challenge” is to work with the state minister for transport, Jacinta Allan, on funding improvements for the line.

“Public transport is primarily a state responsibility,” he said.

“But the prime minister has made it very clear he is comfortable with me as his minister working with the state governments on improving passenger transport.”

Chester indicated the Victorian Government would need to make some commitments of its own before any were made by the Federal Government in the upcoming budget.

“The Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong lines were the beneficiaries of some major upgrades over the past decade, but other lines in Victoria have missed out in terms of major funding in that regard,” he added.

Wangaratta MP Tim McCurdy gave the local perspective at a joint press conference with Chester as he stopped there on his trip.

“The people in the North Eat are absolutely sick and tired of hearing the [passenger rail] investment go to other places in Victoria and not on the North East Line,” McCurdy said.

“That’s why I’ve got Darren Chester here today.

“Obviously with the state budget coming up we want to put the pressure on Jacinta Allan to make sure that she contributes to our line as well.”