DANNY O’Brien, our local State MP, has changed his mind.
He previously thought the return of passenger rail services to South Gippsland was a long way off.
But Melbourne’s sprawling growth and the number of people commuting towards the city from this area for work has turned him around.
“It’s clear we are going to see more and more decentralisation to this area as Melbourne continues to grow and we’re already seeing a lot of people in the Poowong, Nyora, Lang Lang and Koo Wee Rup areas commuting that way for work.
“I think it should be put back on the agenda and we should be planning for it in the medium term.
“In the run-up to the next State Election, admittedly still three years away, we’ll be rolling out a regional rail policy and I believe South Gippsland should be on it,” he said when visiting Korumburra last week.
But he also acknowledges that it won’t be easy.
“Apart from the cost, you’ve got the situation where there isn’t a
timeslot in the metro system for a service from South Gippsland to come back in.
“That’s why I have been advocating for a designated line, into the city, from Gippsland. Services to Gippsland are never going to be any good until we get that.
“Residential development in the area between Cranbourne and here is only going to accelerate and we’ll need proper public transport links. If the third airport, between Koo Wee Rup and Lang Lang ever did go ahead, it would super-charge the whole thing.”
The other problem, says Mr O’Brien, is the parlous state of the rail infrastructure between Leongatha and Cranbourne.
“I met with representatives of Southern Rail last week and they say they will have tourist rail services back here in three years but it’s an ambitious plan.
“I asked them if they have a lease from Victrack, and they said they didn’t. They also claim the railway infrastructure is in good shape, but they also say there needs to be significant investment to replace 1:5 sleepers and to undertake other work.
“I think their project still has a long way to go.”
Southern Rail has been reported as saying they’ll need a minimum of $6.5 million to get the trains running but claim $14 million is required to get the railway into a high standard.
But Mr O’Brien says he doesn’t believe one project has to rule out others from going ahead.
Southern Rail say they don’t believe a stand-alone extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail, initially from Leongatha to Korumburra, and then further on later, is not a good investment at $10 million given the “low numbers” using the rail trail.
They say they would prefer to see the rail trail run alongside the rail lines, if there’s enough room, and that trains, even only tourist trains, take precedence over all other uses.
That includes using the railyards at Korumburra as a community precinct to include the Korumburra Community Hub, plus the proposed redevelopment of the railway yards at Leongatha.
But Mr O’Brien says these apparently competing users need not be mutually exclusive which is why he has met with local groups and will be meeting with Victrack soon.
“I firmly believe there’s a way through this and it won’t have to come to one idea taking precedence over all others.”
Passenger rail should return, says O’Brien