Rail mo­men­tum

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - Front Page - BY DEAN LAWSON

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.”

Wel­come news

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.

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