NEITHER of the two major parties are committed to returning passenger trains to Mildura 10 months out from the next state election.

Labor has not indicated support for restoring the service while in government, with a spokesperson last year instead talking up the number of coach services Mildura receives.

The government privately argues the existing track is currently only appropriate for freight and for passenger trains to operate eight crossing loop upgrades would be needed, as well as rebuilt stations and new trains.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Matthew Guy last week avoided reaffirming his party’s passenger rail pledge from the last state election.

The Coalition in 2018 promised to spend $80 million on level crossings along the line in its first Budget if elected and ultimately restore passenger services to Mildura within two terms of government.

Mr Guy was asked about that promise and whether it would be on his agenda this election.

“(The promise) was when the facilitation of Murray Basin Rail was complete … because of the heavier gauge rail, the better quality track, you could then look at a service which would then be standard gauge (and) you could then change over at Ballarat onto a train to Mildura,” he told the ABC.

“Now sadly, another three or four years on, and the Murray Basin project has stalled and the State Government has no intention of getting it under way.

“Which is concerning, because if they can spend $140 billion to build a tunnel in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and then another $20 billion to build a road, another $25 billion to build a tunnel through the CBD, it’s amazing they can’t put the money forward to build the Murray Basin Rail Project, which is one of our most economically vital rail projects to the north and northwest.”

Announcements of major election promises are often withheld until closer to voting day and candidates haven’t yet been preselected in Mildura for the Nationals, Liberals or Labor, leaving some scope for a change in tone.

Voters will head to the polls on November 26 this year.

Rail has typically been a hot topic in elections for the seat of Mildura since the previous passenger service was axed under Jeff Kennett’s government in 1993.

Anger over that decision helped elect independent Russell Savage in 1996, while the train was also part of Ali Cupper’s platform when she unseated incumbent Nationals MP Peter Crisp in 2018.

The Mildura line runs through the seats of Ripon and Mildura, electorates that were decided by 15 and 237 votes, respectively, four years ago.

In an end-of-year interview with the Mildura Weekly last month, Ms Cupper said a key focus of a second term if re-elected would be securing a “rail revolution”, covering both freight and passenger services.

Glenn James, an 83-year-old with severe spinal damage, said in last week’s ‘Weekly he suffered “intolerable” pain during a trip to Melbourne by bus.

He said the voters of Mildura needed to “get up and start howling” about getting the train back.

– MICHAEL DIFABRIZIO