Engineering, Freight Rail, Passenger Rail, Rail Supply

Vic’s $1.6bn regional rail upgrade gets its funding

V/Line train going through level crossing. Photo: RailGallery.com.au

$556 million for the Ballarat line, $435 million for the Gippsland line, and over half a billion dollars more in upgrades to other lines make up a major Victorian regional rail package announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week.

Turnbull announced on Tuesday the Federal Government will contribute $1.42 billion to Victoria’s Regional Rail Revival program.

“This is a once in a generation investment that will deliver improvements for every regional passenger line in Victoria,” state transport minister Jacinta Allan said.

The Andrews Government will contribute only $150 million to the project, but says the federal commitment represents the $1.45 billion the state feels it is owed from the Commonwealth’s asset recycling scheme, for selling the Port of Melbourne last year.

Turnbull denied the $1.42 billion regional rail commitment was related to the asset recycling claim, however.

He says the money is new infrastructure spending, maintaining his Government’s position that Victoria missed the boat on asset recycling funds.

Turnbull said the combined $1.57 billion funding package will see new services added, travel times reduced, and stations upgraded, through funding distributed as follows:

  • $555.6 million for the Ballarat line
  • $435 million for the Gippsland line
  • $140 million for the North East line
  • $110 million for Surf Coast rail including Waurn Ponds duplication
  • $91 million for the Bendigo and Echuca line
  • $95 million for the Avon River Bridge upgrade
  • An additional $20.2 million for the Murray Basin freight rail upgrade, bringing total Commonwealth commitment to $240.2 million
  • $10 million for the Shepparton line

“Good transport infrastructure is absolutely vital for a 21st century economy and that’s what we’re doing,” Turnbull told Eddie McGuire on his radio show in Melbourne on Tuesday morning.

“You knit all of these cities together and you create greater options. It has a fantastic impact on housing affordability,” he continued. “Because it’s important to understand that distance is measured in minutes not in kilometres.”

Federal transport and infrastructure minister Darren Chester said the funding was the result of extensive talks between him and Jacinta Allan, after he called Allan’s request for funding a “Santa’s wish list” in April.

“When I referred to it as Santa’s wish list, I had a 1.5-page letter from the Victorian Government and no detailed plans,” Chester told reporters.

“Now we have been able to get detailed plans out of the Victorian Government. We want to get on with the job. It’s been a difficult negotiation process at times. But it’s fair to say that over the last month we have made a great deal of progress.”

Chester also rejected the state’s assertion that the Commonwealth funding was owed to Victoria for selling the Port of Melbourne, saying on AM Radio: “The premier can say what he likes really; I just don’t particularly care what he says about most things these days. He’s completely out of touch with Victorians.”

Turnbull also used the announcement to take a swipe at the premier, highlighting the cancellation of the East West Link tollroad project “wasting over $1 billion”.

Unperturbed by the continued attacks from the federal politicians, Andrews hailed the funding announcement as a major win for Victorians and Victorian jobs.

“We said we would fight every day to get the money that was owed to Victorians and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.

“The Liberals said we should be happy with whatever crumbs fell our way. But we weren’t copping that. We told the Federal Government that our fight would simply continue until we saw results.”