Victoria’s Coalition has promised to invest $4-million into a business case to develop railpassenger services to Horsham and Hamilton if it wins power later this year.
It has also promised to add new bus services between Horsham and Hamilton, improve passenger timetables and introduce new tourist-friendly coach services to and from the Grampians.
Nationals Member for Lowan Emma Kealy announced the plans in Horsham and Hamilton this week.
Ms Kealy said she acknowledged a loud community call for passengerrail services in the Wimmera and an in-depth business case was a critical first step to establish what was needed.
“Western Victoria needs a better deal on rail and bus transport and that’s exactly what I will deliver if we win the state election in November,” she said.
“Our commitment is to fund a vital next-step business case into a rail service for Horsham and Hamilton and we will also boost services so that workers, students, visitors and our whole community can easily get where we need to be.”
Ms Kealy stressed that bringing passenger-rail services back to Horsham was far from a straightforward exercise of simply putting a train back on the tracks
She said for the concept to work and have longevity it required considerable investigation and analysis.
“First of all, we need to find out the best way to deliver a service that will provide long-term support for people and generate passenger support. We need to make sure we get it right and avoid setting something up to fail,” she said.
“The business case, that will look at services across western Victoria, is not just another study. It is an important launch pad, a critical stage identified by regional councils lobbying for a return of services.
“We only want to do this once, so we need to get it right.”
Ms Kealy said improved bus services between Hamilton and Horsham, and Halls Gap and the Grampians, would include a new weekday coach service from Horsham to Hamilton, via Balmoral and Cavendish, and return. These services would coordinate with regional connections.
“Timetable changes on the Ararat line would see a new weekday train that would arrive in Ararat before 9am, giving a more convenient option for people travelling in from Ballarat,” she said.
“We will also negotiate with Great Southern Rail to secure continued service to the towns of Ararat, Stawell and Horsham.”
A Western Rail Steering Committee involving regional municipal councils welcomed the announcement, which included recommendations from a Grampians and Barwon South-west Region Passenger Services Cost and Feasibility Study.
Horsham councillor Mark Radford said the news was a step forward for western Victoria and would support a need for decentralising Victoria’s population.
“All levels of government have invested heavily in this extensive, evidence-based feasibility study and it is great to see the hard work of local government being rewarded,” he said.
“It is now time for the State Government to follow suit and commit the necessary funds to advance recommendations to the next stage.”
The announcement also came amid speculation about the potential for a Wimmera-based private enterprise to play a role in securing a return of railpassenger services.
Wimmera Rail Services, a Horsham family business established last year, has developed its own business plan with an aim to operate Wimmera passenger-rail services from Horsham.
Greg Phillips and his son Tim, both with extensive experience in the rail industry, are confident their company could develop and efficiently run a service if they could gain State Government backing.
They estimate that a State Government commitment of $70-million would open the door for them to launch stage one of their proposal, involving reinstatement of a Horsham to Ararat passenger service.
Greg Phillips joined a chorus in welcoming the Coalition commitment to develop a business case. “It’s the next stage and works in with what we want to do. It would help set the ball rolling from our end,” he said.
Tim Phillips said the project was about leveraging the private-enterprise environment to gain a win for the community.
“This isn’t a stunt, this is a business plan. We believe we have a model that can work,” he said.