Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (17:22): My adjournment today is for the Minister for Public Transport, Minister Carroll. The transport options in rural and regional Victoria are challenging. For too long our regional Victorians have faced severe disadvantage because of a lack of mobility. Frankly, nowhere near enough money has been spent outside the tram tracks, Mrs McArthur. This contributes to social isolation and creates barriers to accessing employment opportunities and essential services, such as education and health care. This is not good enough. We must do better if we are to maintain regional Victoria as a great place to live and visit.
Upon travelling through regions recently and visiting many transport operators, I have learned how a lack of transport severely affects communities in Ararat and towns nearby. The limited transport that does exist currently is unreliable and inconsistent, causing significant and unnecessary stress for those that rely on public transport to do their shopping, go to the doctors and meet with family and friends. We must continue to look for ways that we can improve public transport in the regions, and that begins with listening to and acknowledging the needs of regional Victorians. We owe them more than missed buses and no services on weekends.
Part of this problem could be addressed by introducing a reliable rail service from Nhill that is designed to link with an existing passenger service from Ararat to Melbourne. This would not only capitalise on existing infrastructure but also make a significant difference to those living in western Victoria. Providing ongoing staff to manage this service would also provide the community with access to more public sector jobs, boosting employment. With usable standard gauge track in place, there is very little investment required to meet the community demand for a consistent service. Essentially the government could make a huge difference in mobility at very little cost. Such an opportunity deserves greater attention.
A trial of this service would provide us with a better understanding of where the demand is, what infrastructure is required and how that service could run. This service is about getting your kid to TAFE, getting your granny to her doctor’s appointment. Therefore the action I am asking the minister to take is: will the government trial a service linking Nhill, Dimboola, Horsham and Stawell with Ararat’s VLocity train to Melbourne to mitigate transport disadvantage in western Victoria and to meet community expectations?
Noting the Member’s concerns, I have asked the Department of Transport to take on the feedback as part of future transport planning.
Any consideration of a trial would need to take account of the following: the availability of rolling stock; facilities to stable a train overnight; infrastructure to enable a train to turn back at each end of its trip on the standard gauge tracks; potential level crossing works; and potential passing loops so as to not constrain freight trains travelling between Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.
It should be noted that the western Victorian communities are currently served by twice weekly by The Overland interstate rail service, as well as by V/Line road coaches. The Victorian Government has fully funded the operation of The Overland for a further 3-years out to December 2023 following the Government of South Australia’s decision to stop funding this service, which is used by 20,000 passengers each year.
The Government’s focus has been to deliver more frequent and reliable services between Melbourne, Ballarat and Ararat and onward connections to the Wimmera.
For example, from 31 January 2021, a new Ballarat line timetable was introduced that delivered 125 new services – including 45 new peak services – following the completion of the final phase of works on the Ballarat Line Upgrade. Ballarat now has a train every 20 minutes to Melbourne in the peak and every 40 minutes between peaks on weekdays. Other improvements introduced with the new timetable included:
- The new Cobblebank and upgraded Rockbank stations each having more than 200 extra services each week.
- Melton having 140 extra services per week and Caroline Springs having 125 new services.
- Wendouree having an extra 110 services per week and Ballan 100 extra services.
- Bacchus Marsh passengers now have a wider range of services to select from with all trains from Ballarat now stopping at the station.
- A fifth service to Ararat was also added following upgrades to the stabling facility at Ararat.