Regions need high-speed rail

By Shepparton News

Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell makes the case for high-speed rail.

High speed rail is a perennial conversation around Greater Shepparton.

It is like some mythical land that, unless we are in the lead up to an election, seems to be a long way off the top of a far, far away tree.

Projects in the 1980s and 1990s never got off the ground, and the Federal Government’s 2013 feasibility study into a Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane high speed rail project went nowhere.

In 2016, CLARA came along with a plan for a link between Melbourne and Sydney, involving the construction of many new ‘cities’ along the route.

The idea is that the value uplift from turning the farmland into city blocks pays for the high-speed train, that travels on a new corridor.

CLARA has gone a bit quiet since then, with the exception of receiving an $8 million grant from the Federal Government to develop a business case for the first stage line between Melbourne and Shepparton.

We have always tended to look at high speed rail, or very fast trains, through the paradigm of a Melbourne to Sydney link that may benefit Shepparton because it is on the route.

But the real benefit that Sheppartonians want is a fast, regular and comfortable train trip to Melbourne.

We don’t necessarily want to wait for 'Melbourne to Sydney' to become viable to experience this.

The population growth in Victoria demands that we take advantage of our proximate regional cities and link them to Melbourne, and in the immediate future.

A high speed rail project proposal funded by the City of Geelong entitled ‘Stronger, Together’ proposes that the Shepparton, Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong lines all enter the Melbourne CDB via the planned Tullamarine airport link.

One of the main causes of slow travel time into Melbourne is the congestion of the V/Line trains with the Metro network.

The Tullamarine link offers a dedicated way in.

The Geelong mayor Bruce Harwood understands that Melbourne to Geelong only high-speed rail gives limited benefit to the state, and that a regional network makes the whole project viable.

That is why their project looks more broadly.

The project doesn’t propose 350 km/hr Chinese and Japanese-style high speed trains, but 200 km/hr electrified stock that could use most of our existing corridor and track.

For this reason, it appears more viable for the state and federal governments to consider and could ease the growth pressure on Melbourne sooner rather than later.

The proponents of this project claim that the travel time from Shepparton to Melbourne would be anywhere from 85 to 100 minutes, with Tullamarine Airport as a stop on the route.

Recent media reports claiming the Victorian Government is considering de-scoping the Tullamarine link, and not providing a dedicated tunnel from Sunshine to Spencer St are concerning.

If this happens, not only will Tullamarine link be a fraction of its potential, but high-speed rail to the regions via the airport will be a dead duck for generations.

We hope that the transport minister Jacinta Allan, whose own electorate of Bendigo would see significant benefits and who has done much to fund the Shepparton rail corridor, sees the possibility for airport rail to become regional rail using a Sunshine tunnel.

We would all love to jump on the Australian version of the Shinkansen and enjoy a smooth 350 km/hr trip from Shepparton to Sydney – you could be there in two and a half hours and be sipping cocktails on the harbour by eight.

If someone builds it – great.

But this higher speed project linking our regional cities to Melbourne via the airport is tangible and could spur our development into the next decade.