Light at end of tunnel?
With election rhetoric ramping up as we head into the home straight, Labor and the Coalition have again clashed over Benalla’s north-east line.
The Nationals have accused Labor of blowing its last chance to deliver for regional rail, citing its failure to include the north-east line in its ‘‘regional rail’’ plan.
Labor, however, said the north-east line bogies were ordered and it was now up to the Federal Government to upgrade the line.
State Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said regional Victorians could be left with ‘‘no doubt about where Labor’s priorities lie’’.
‘‘Daniel Andrews has made it painfully clear that the northeast train lines do not matter to a Labor government,’’ Ms Ryan said.
‘‘This week’s announcement that Labor will spend $340 million for 18 new trains on the Ballarat and Geelong lines is an affront to people living along any of the other long-haul train lines across Victoria.
‘‘Despite appalling punctuality and reliability, and having some of the oldest rolling stock in the state, the north-east line did not even rate a mention in Labor’s plan.
‘‘It’s time someone told the premier that regional Victoria is much more than just Geelong and Ballarat.’’
State Member for Northern Victoria Jaclyn Symes rejected this assessment and said while the process took time, the upgrades were being delivered.
‘‘We’ve ordered the bogies for the new long-haul trains on the north-east Line,’’ Ms Symes said.
‘‘The north-east line is a gauge-isolated line, so we have to create a brand new fleet.
‘‘We’ve put pressure on the Federal Government to make sure they fix the track to a class two.
‘‘That is what it needs order to run modern trains.
‘‘The Federal Government in are providing that funding and the new long-haul trains will be on the track as soon as it’s upgraded.
‘‘It takes time. We have to get the trains designed, there isn’t a train brochure we can look at. But we are committed to making sure the trains are available when the track is finished.
‘‘It’s not instant unfortunately, but that’s the order things have to go.’’
However, Ms Ryan said these promises had been made before.
‘‘Daniel Andrews stood in Wangaratta in April 2016 and said he would buy new trains for the north-east line if the Federal Government provided money to fix the track,’’ Ms Ryan said.
‘‘We have been successful in securing millions for track works from the Federal Coalition, but Daniel Andrews has completely failed regional commuters along the north-east line, backing down on his promise to buy new trains.
‘‘Just 10 days out from an election, Labor’s big announcement for regional rail doesn’t include most of Victorian’s regional rail network.’’
The discussion appears to be a case of semantics, with the Coalition saying it wants to see the trains that have been promised for several years.
While Labor said the trains were coming, they were simply in the process of ordering them.
The good news for Benalla’s train passengers is that both sides of the political spectrum have said the line upgrades, and new trains will go ahead if they are elected.
The public could be forgiven for being a bit sceptical of both positions as politicians have been planning to improve the north-east line for literally decades.
But with Federal money on the table to upgrade the track, and the left and right promising new trains, it would seem that there is light at the end of the tunnel.