On the face of it, yesterday’s pledge by the Victorian Opposition for investment in regional rail, should it win next month’s election, is a real winner.
A spend of $19billion is obviously very significant, and stands to benefit all regions, and some regions more than others.
The 10-year plan would feature European-style fast trains travelling at 200km/h and aims to significantly cut travel times from key regional centres to Melbourne.
The pledge has the idea of decentralisation at its core.
Under the model, a journey from Geelong to Melbourne would take only 32 minutes and only 70minutes from Bendigo. A journey from Traralgon is predicted to take only 62minutes, instead of the current 132.
But should this plan go ahead, how would Shepparton stack up in comparison?
Initial predictions suggest the journey between Shepparton and Melbourne would take 117 minutes, a reduction of 29 minutes from current average travel times of 146 minutes.
Earlier this year, the Labor Government announced $313million of funding for Stage 2 of the Shepparton line upgrade.
The funding package, to be delivered across four budgets, would allow for infrastructure upgrades to enable faster VLocity trains to operate on the line.
At the time, it was suggested that the faster trains would shave up to 20 minutes off journeys to and from Melbourne.
So when you put the two together — one is a pledge contingent on the opposition winning the election to be delivered by 2028, and the other has been announced and funded across four budgets.
Comparing the two, predicted reduction of travel times are within about 10 minutes of each other, and would see the Shepparton-Melbourne journey cut to about two hours.
The Coalition should be congratulated for being bold and offering up this vision for the regions.
Many would agree that Melbourne’s current growth is unsustainable and forward-thinking around decentralisation is both sensible and necessary.
We welcome the pledge, the planned investment and the fact that regional rail is high on the agenda leading up to next month’s state election.
But for Shepparton, if the plan goes ahead, it would not be an absolute game-changer like predictions suggest it would be for other regional centres.
Travel times on trains between our city and Melbourne, even after a reduction of about half an hour, would still make a regular commute to the state’s capital unrealistic for most.
A fast rail option that makes that commute realistic would surely be a game-changer.