PRESIDENT of South Gippsland Tourist Rail, Tony Nye, said the group was saved from having to make “a very serious decision at its annual general meeting” on Saturday, October 5 by the announcement last week of a $177,000 support package. In Korumburra, on a wild and woolly day last Thursday, to make the announcement that has clearly saved the group’s bacon, was the Deputy Premier of Victoria and Member for Gippsland South, Peter Ryan, who added $115,000 in State funding to the $62,000 promised locally. “If ever you wanted to see an organisation that has existed on the back of volunteer effort, it’s South Gippsland Tourist Rail but I’m here today to put something practical behind those words of praise to help you to continue looking after the 36 kilometres of track between Nyora and Leongatha.”
As welcome as this just-in-time funding will be, enabling the group to lay 1000 new sleepers, to undertake necessary work on the pedestrian underpass at Korumburra and replace signage, there’s still much that needs to be done, according to Mr Nye. “I’d like to invite you and the Premier and some of the other politicians and decision makers to come with us on a special VIP’s train and to take them down the track and see just what a magnificent asset we have here and what it takes to keep it operating,” Mr Nye said. “I couldn’t believe that you wouldn’t want to get your cheque books out again and contribute even more heavily to what we have here. “It’s the second longest tourist railway in Australia and in my opinion, the most picturesque with its green rolling hills, waterfalls and all the rest.” But Mr Nye and the assembled SGTR volunteers were delighted with the generous allocation of funding all the same, declaring that Mr Ryan was a wonderful leader who had served the South Gippsland community extremely well in his term of office.
During his statement, Mr Ryan said the State’s contribution of $115,000 would come from the ‘Putting Locals First Fund’, a part of the Victorian Coalition Government’s $1 billion Regional Growth Fund, specifically ear-marked for the projects that local community’s saw as important to them. “And if ever there was an example of the sort of project this fund is for it’s this. Of course the volunteers already do a power of work maintaining and operating the tourist rail but you can’t expect them to keep passing the hat around to get major things like this done. “The work done as part of this project will help reduce ongoing maintenance costs and allow trains to maintain the maximum 40km/h allowed for tourist railways. “An expected increase in visitors will bring the natural flow-on benefits to the local community including a boost to local businesses and the potential for job creation.” Mr Ryan said the South Gippsland Tourist Railway was contributing more than $52,000 in cash and in-kind support, while South Gippsland Shire Council was also investing $10,000.
Mr Ryan said that when regional and rural Victoria does well, the entire state does well. “The Regional Growth Fund supports community-led local initiatives such as this that will provide a tourism boost to regional and rural Victoria, and boost local economies,” Mr Ryan said. “In South Gippsland Shire, the Regional Growth Fund has provided $11.2 million to 28 projects, leveraging a total of $55.3 million. This includes $2 million for the Great Southern Rail Trail Extension and nearly $2 million to Burra Foods to expand its milk powder division.” Mr Ryan said the project was expected to be completed in the middle of 2014.