Standing in front of a proud piece of Wonthaggi rail history, residents Billy Ellis and Kim O’Connor want to spark conversation about returning the rail-line and train services to the Bass Coast. J151814.
By James Brosnan
THIRTY-SIX years since the last train rolled out of Wonthaggi, a group of locals are starting to dream of returning the railway service to Bass Coast’s regional centre.
The residents, who want people to start talking about the possibility, say a train service would be the focal point of any future growth in Wonthaggi with benefits spreading around the Bass Coast.
They believe the train would not only benefit local commuters travelling to and from Melbourne, but would also attract people, business, tourism and infrastructure to the area and creating many jobs.
In June last year, Wonthaggi was identified as one of four regional growth centres by the Victorian government.
The Regional Growth Plan estimates that Gippsland’s population could grow by almost 200,000 by 2041 and acknowledges that Bass Coast and Baw Baw, more specifically Wonthaggi and Warragul-Drouin, are expected to grow fastest over the next 30 years.
Local resident Billy Ellis works for the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and said for Wonthaggi to be an attractive option for new residents and businesses, the train service must be returned.
“It would make us competitive with Drouin and Warragul – an area where people would choose to live as an alternative to Melbourne,” Mr Ellis said.
“My wife grew up in Wonthaggi but I’ve been here seven years and when I came down here I was surprised there was no rail system.
“If you go up north, the Pakenham line extends right through Drouin, Warragul and further on past Traralgon and we have nothing yet we are meant to be a regional centre for growth.”
The local tourism industry would also benefit from the convenience of a train which would also ease traffic and congestion on Melbourne’s arterial roads according to Mr Ellis.
“Families can go down to Melbourne for a day and families can send their kids off to university quite easily – it would be a quicker and safer journey,” he said.
“You also wouldn’t have to worry about traffic jams and the bottleneck which is so often around Officer and Berwick – you wouldn’t have that and it would ease pressure on local roads.
“It would be fantastic for that side of things as well as business. Why would you want to drive, pay for petrol and sit in traffic when you could be in the city comfortably within an hour and a half?
“The bus services take so long and stop so much, and often people heading to Phillip Island are stuck at Anderson – you wouldn’t have that with an efficient train service.”
Mr Ellis’ work with the HIA sees him travel all over Gippsland and says although it would cost taxpayers; it was a price worth paying with the expected growth locally and in Melbourne’s south east.
“HIA members are all builders, builders rely on new homes, new homes rely on demand and I think that demand would be increased if you had a rail link and faith in the township that the government would invest,” Mr Ellis said.
“People would come down because of the cheaper housing, the beach lifestyle and the rail link would enable that confidence and people could even commute from the Bass Coast to Melbourne.
“Building is a massive business and in 2008-2010 there were about 450 building permits per year. We had about 200 last calendar year and this year isn’t looking fantastic either. Everyone is feeling it.
“We are getting large industry down here, but they are just service industries. There are no real core jobs or career paths except for retail managers.
“I think that a rail link would help set up businesses that would create career paths locally for people as well.”
Mr Ellis has support from long-term resident and captain of the Wonthaggi Fire Brigade, Kim O’Connor, who says it would be a massive boost for the area.
“It is a great talking point and something we as an area should start making some noise about and start to lobby some politicians,” Mr O’Connor said.
“It would be fantastic for the people and also encourage people to the area.
“You look at all the big regional centres like Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton and even closer areas like Warragul and through Traralgon – they all have rail and it’s something we really lack.
“I have had some discussions with plenty of people around town and everyone that I have mentioned it to have loved the idea of returning the train and the opportunities it would create.”
The call for the return of the train comes just two months after Premier Denis Napthine announced a $2–2.5 billion rail project to cater for growth in Melbourne’s southeast.
The multi-billion dollar program to transform the Pakenham and Cranbourne lines will deliver a 30 per cent capacity boost for one of Melbourne’s busiest rail corridors.
Train passenger services from Wonthaggi were withdrawn in December 1977 with the line closed in November 1978. The railway line was dismantled in 1988.