DREAM TO BECOME A REALITY? An incoming Liberal-National State Government would commit $80million to upgrade the level crossings between Mildura and Maryborough, and to build passing-loops, paving the way for the return of passenger rail to Mildura in the future.

By JOHN DOOLEY

MILDURA’S dream of having a passenger rail service return has seen a glimmer of light appear at the end of the tunnel, with the announcement on Tuesday that $80million will be committed to upgrade level crossings between Mildura and Maryborough by an incoming Liberal-National Government should they be elected in November.

Making the announcement at the Mildura Railway Station, Nationals’ Leader Peter Walsh, PICTURED right, who was joined by Member for Mildura Peter Crisp, PICTURED left, said this was an issue that was very dear to Mr Crisp’s heart.

“Peter’s passion to see passenger rail returned to Mildura has been relentless, and I’m delighted today to be announcing that an elected Liberal-National Government will allocate $80million to upgrade the level crossings between Mildura and Maryborough, and to build passing-loops where necessary for trains in the future,” he said.

“The upgrades to the crossings will be particularly beneficial to freight trains, enabling them to achieve a 24-hour turnaround, to get product to markets and ports more safely and quickly and importantly, this paves the way for passenger trains in the future.”

Following the Kerang rail accident, in June 2007, in which 11 passengers were killed and 23 injured, when a Melbourne-bound passenger train collided with a semi-trailer at a level crossing which had flashing lights, new speed restrictions were introduced which meant trains had to slow to 50km/h when passing through unprotected crossings.

Authorities introduced the Australian Level Crossing Assessment Model (ALCAM).

This assessment tool was used to identify key potential risks at level crossings and to assist in the prioritisation of crossings for upgrades.

ALCAM came up with a number of recommendations, and today that’s the measure by which V/LINE determines what level crossings need to be upgraded and where.

Given there are around 130 level crossings between Mildura and Maryborough that trains have to slow at, the ability to achieve a 24-hour turnaround for freight trains in and out of Mildura is impossible.

An upbeat Mr Crisp said the funding commitment was fantastic news for Mildura.

“It’s something I’ve been working for 10 years to achieve, we’ve been knocking on doors, lobbying for this in Melbourne and Canberra,” he said.

“Now the way will be set with this investment for the return of the passenger train.”

Mr Walsh said that this funding came on top of the Coalition’s $633million pledge for a fleet of new long-haul trains, including the ‘Velocity’ train replacement, something which was announced a number of weeks ago.

“We made a commitment to replace the current ageing fleet of long-haul trains, from right around Victoria, trains that were ordered back in the 1970s, delivered in the early ‘80s are well past their used-by date,” he said.

“A new fleet of trains is the next step of the Murray Basin Rail Project (MBRP), together with the level crossings being done, the combination of which opens the way for a passenger train to come back to Mildura.

“As I have already said, both Peter and I would love to be part of a Government that actually returns a passenger train to Mildura – something the people of Mildura have aspired to for a long time.”

Mr Walsh said the Coalition is seriously committed to decentralisation right around Victoria.

“They want to see us become a ‘State of cities’, rather than a ‘city State’, where all the growth is in Melbourne.

“A key part of that strategy is to have good, fast and reliable public transport, right across Victoria, and Mildura is no exception to that, it’s what people want,” he said.

“Crispy has worked very hard around this project, that’s why in Government we allocated the $440million to do the MBRP, to standardise the line between here and Maryborough, and then the dual-gauge from Maryborough to the Ballarat to link with the Metropolitan line interchange.”

Under the $440million MBRP, standardisation and upgrading of 1055 kilometres of track to improve rail freight services and provide additional freight access from the Murray Basin region to Victoria’s major ports in Portland, Geelong and Melbourne was undertaken with freight train services resuming on the Mildura to Maryborough line earlier this year.

In summary, Mr Walsh said it was the Coalition’s $440million for the MBRP, and now another $80million for the crossing upgrades and passing loops, that has made these outcomes possible.

“We are doing what no one else has ever allocated money for, we did it in Government, and we are now making a further commitment, that if we are elected in November, we will go the next step,” he said.

Asked about a time-line for the return of passenger rail to Mildura, Mr Walsh said he envisaged that all the work outlined would be completed in the next term of Government if the Coalition is elected.

“If we are returned to Government, then there is the opportunity of a passenger train for Mildura in the early part of the following term, going into 2023,” he said.