MEXICAN STANDOFF FOR REGIONAL RAIL REVIVAL

Luba Grigorovitch
Branch Secretary

With growing population, cars, traffic and fuel prices, the need for Australia to find efficient and economical ways to move passengers and freight has become more pressing. Developed countries are adopting rail for bulk transport and Victoria must keep pace.

Post-war Australia has over fetishised the car. Railways have been starved of funding while motorists have dominated our infrastructure politics and left public transport its poor cousin.

With disintegrating track condition, a lack of rolling stock to meet demand, and constant unreliability, V/Line has long awaited a fresh gust of wind for its sagging sails. Finally the tides are changing and the 2017/18 Victorian budget will inject V/Line with the funds to continue Victoria’s long project to bring rail into the 21st century.

Dubbed the Regional Rail Revival, we can expect to see a boost to rail maintenance, upgrades to the Gippsland Line, further level crossing upgrades on the Warrnambool Line and a series of service enhancements. Upgrades to the Warrnambool Line, Bendigo/Echuca Line, Ballarat and North East Lines are also on the cards pending top-up funding from the federal Government. Also included is a scoping study for Airport Rail, but when it comes to rail investment, politics is everything and getting major projects funded can be similar to drawing blood from a stone.

Unfortunately there is mixed emotions about this project as the federal government has been quick to deflect responsibility towards Victoria but we all know that major infrastructure projects are historically federal and shared contributions. It appears the Victorian State Government is keen to get their fair share of the funding owed by the Turnbull Government.

Here Turnbull has an opportunity to show his commitment to regional economic development and an opportunity to show maturity above the daily politics of pork-barrelling and vested interests, but with a week to the federal budget Victorian commentators are tightening the screws.

But while the federal government continue to withhold funding for the Melbourne Metro Rail Tunnel, and now Regional Rail Revival, the Mexican standoff will continue.

But that’s only half the story. The Federal Government in Canberra still needs to come to the party on equitable funding. In recent years Victoria has received only 8.5% of the entire Australian infrastructure budget despite being 25% of the population and fastest growing state.

The Federal Minister for Infrastructure is working hard to hide from the responsibility of funding these critical works for which the Commonwealth has responsibility. But while this standoff continues, we Victorians are forced to dig deep and look after our own future interests, going it alone to fund long awaited rail projects.

While the best time to build a railway is always 20 years ago, the second best time is now. Without federal funding (taxed from our wages) the burden will be carried by Victoria and the road to recovery longer.

These much needed upgrades are in much need of further support to keep pace with growth and patronage. The federal government needs to fulfil its asset recycling scheme commitment of $1.5 billion to Victoria for productive infrastructure and ensure Victoria’s regions get the attention they deserve. Victoria’s regions have been screaming for rail funding since Kennett swung his axe.

Budgets are about choices and Victoria has made clear what is being prioritised. It is time now that the Federal Government and Malcolm Turnbull fund rail for our future.

This budget expands on the positive momentum in the rail industry at the moment and delivers many bread and butter needs to prepare Victoria for worsening traffic, rising cost of living and an economic uplift for regional Victoria.