Rail fix ignored

GIPPSLAND’S peak council group has called on the State Government to fund realignment of the South Gippsland Highway at Koonwarra, but overlooked returning rail to the region.

Train lobbyist: Chris Cantlon is calling for rail services to be returned to South Gippsland. He is at the Korumburra Railway Station.

Train lobbyist: Chris Cantlon is calling for rail services to be returned to South Gippsland. He is at the Korumburra Railway Station.

The Gippsland Local Government Network, which represents Gippsland’s shire councils, has listed the works at the Black Spur south of Koonwarra as a priority project for funding in the state budget in May.
The project is estimated to cost $40 million.
Returning rail to South Gippsland was also passed over by the Gippsland Freight Infrastucture Master Plan released on Friday, but many other local projects were mentioned.
These included upgrading the South Gippsland Highway upgrade, the Leongatha heavy vehicle alternate route, Strzelecki Highway bridge and road upgrade, and the Korumburra heavy vehicle route.
These projects were also mentioned in the committee’s state budget submission.
The Committee for Gippsland CEO Mary Aldred said the group outlined the importance of a return of rail for South Gippsland in its 2011 Strategic Plan, and raised this again in its submission to the Gippsland Freight Plan.
“The Gippsland Freight Infrastructure Master Plan was compiled by AECOM following a survey of transport and related Gippsland businesses to gauge their views on what they saw as the most important transport infrastructure priorities for getting freight in and out of the region,” she said.
“In South Gippsland, businesses nominated funding for South Gippsland Highway upgrade, Leongatha heavy vehicle route, and Korumburra heavy vehicle route as the most immediate priorities.
“These projects would also present important benefits to the safety and amenity of local towns.”
Returning passenger and freight rail services to the region is a priority project for South Gippsland Shire Council.
But mayor Cr Jim Fawcett said council’s priority projects did not always meet “the criteria of the broader region”.
“So at times we may not get our priority projects into the GLGN arena,” he said.
“We just have to continue advocacy on our behalf.”
Cr Fawcett said there were issues with returning rail to the region based on previous studies, but said council was now working with rail return advocacy group, South and West Gippsland Transport Group, to prepare a proposal to the government.
That would advocate for the government to undertake another study into the viability of returning rail based on freight and passenger demands, and the state of the region’s roads.
“Unless we get the economic justification for it, we’re always going to struggle to get the case,” Cr Fawcett said.
“We have got to put the word on both sides of parliament about the economic benefit, both from the damage to roads to (transporting) goods and everything else, and that involves quite a few dollars.”
Cr Fawcett said Murray Goulburn and Burra Foods could transport goods from their Leongatha and Korumburra factories respectively by rail.
Nonetheless, Cr Fawcett welcomed GLGN and the committee’s advocacy for other projects in South Gippsland.
“That gives further weight to when we go to Regional Development Victoria and other groups, if we have these groups’ support,” he said.
Chair of GLGN, mayor of Wellington Shire Cr Scott Rossetti, said the submission was focused on major public transport, rail freight and road issues.
Rail advocate Chris Cantlon is advocating for trains to return to South Gippsland and has initiated an online petition.
The 18 year old is from Melbourne but has family ties to Foster. He was concerned GLGN did not push for rail services.
“The subsidised current road coach services that were upgraded under the Brumby Labor government in May 2008 for South Gippsland was really a short term solution that had no real vision of the future prospects for this region,” he said.
“Although a train has not operated past Cranbourne since April 1998, a frequent and fast commuting service as far as Leongatha by the next decade is justifiable and feasible, especially with the patronage, deteriorating condition of the region’s roads, travel time to Melbourne and the price of oil dramatically increasing.
“More bus services are definitely required in the short term before the railway line is reopened.”

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=9881

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