The future of Warrnambool’s train service was brought into focus this week by a surprise state government announcement – a $10 million upgrade of 20 passive level crossings on the line.
The upgrades, due to be finished by the end of the year, will allow temporary speed restrictions introduced after last July’s collision between a truck and a train at Pirron Yallock to be lifted, resolving significant punctuality issues.
Warrnambool City councillor Michael Neoh welcomed the news, but said it was “reactive”.
“While I applaud the upgrade of the crossings, it should be seen in the light of a long-term plan to upgrade the track, not just to simply react to getting the service back to its current service level,” he said.
The desired improvements are well known – new rolling stock, track and signalling upgrades, extra crossing loops and sections of track duplication. Many were long-term goals in the government’s Regional Development Network Plan, released last May.
Cr Neoh said a costed, clear plan for the line’s future was crucial.
“Without a plan it’s just like the Reid Oval or our CBD – unless you've got a plan, you can’t advocate for the money and you can’t stage it,” he said.
“We’re already disadvantaged by the fact we’re three hours away (from Melbourne) and with worse infrastructure than say Bendigo or Ballarat in terms of rail, it just creates more barriers.”
The councillor and former mayor said action was up to “the will of the government of the day”.
“We’ve just had a $10 million commitment – why didn’t that happen five to 10 years ago?” he said. “It’s only because of public outcry and that it’s taking four hours to get to Melbourne that we’ve had some intervention. You could imagine if this was Geelong they would be screaming and the politicians’ ears would be pricking up.”
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the government was working on a plan to improve the Warrnambool line. But she was unable to pinpoint a timeline or costs.
Ms Allan said the government was working out what needed to be done, and then it would act.
“We do need to do that planning work first before we can understand the scope of the infrastructure works that need to be done, how much they’re going to cost, how long they will take to help guide future decisions particularly around budget allocations,” she said.
“I have a very strong understanding of how an improvement to rail services would make a big difference for people who already live in the south-west but also it would make a big difference in helping attract more people to live in the south-west.
“I think we’ve demonstrated that we’re not so much interested in whether or not it’s a safe seat or a marginal seat, we’ve recognised that there needed to be an additional service put in for Warrnamboool and we’ve done that.”