Local, Independant and Effective

Hansard Transcript - June 16, Grievance Debate, Public Transport in Indi

Posted June 17, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (20:28):  Day after day, as I move around my electorate, I am confronted by constituents who are not happy with the state of rail services in our communities. The lack of a punctual and reliable service is our grievance. My community has asked me to get the government to do something about it.

The major national north-south road and rail transport corridor runs through Indi. This affords some benefits for our connectivity to these services, but it can be better and it should be better. I am committed to working to ensure that Indi is a connected electorate where people can get to where they need to be on time and safely, and where businesses can effectively transport goods.

Access to efficient and effective rail services and freight, and high-speed rail between Melbourne, Albury, Wodonga, Sydney and Brisbane, are key policy areas for Indi. It is freight, high-speed rail and local and interstate services that we need long-term plans for.

Both the federal and state governments have identified planned budget expenditure for improvements to our national and state networks, with the aim of having more reliable and safer travel conditions within this critical transport corridor. However, all is not good.

I believe the federal government has not delivered on high-speed rail. In last month's federal budget the government cut a $52 million allocation to establish a planning authority for this project that would link Brisbane and Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra. The withdrawal of this funding throws doubt on the long-term viability of this nation-building project.

The delays will have major impacts on the ability of authorities to guarantee land for the corridor and will greatly add to the end cost of the project. It is not good enough. I will not allow the issue of high-speed rail to simply disappear. This project is of great economic, social and environmental benefit to all of Australia, not just my electorate.

I want to talk about the other rail—the not very fast rail that is owned by the Commonwealth via the ARTC and run by the Victorian government's V/Line. On the ground I have been meeting and liaising with staff from the Australian Rail Track Corporation, the ARTC, on work needed on the Albury-Wodonga-Melbourne rail track.

The ARTC invested $10 million in a state-of-the-art shoulder ballast cleaning machine that allows crews to cover more ground quickly, moving along the corridor, to clean fouled ballast and return clean ballast to the track. This ballast rehabilitation project continues to steadily improve the condition of the track between Wodonga and Melbourne through a combination of shoulder ballast cleaning, track undercutting and sledding.

From all reports these targeted track works have removed mud holes and improved the overall track drainage, which in the long term will minimise the mud holes reoccurring. Reports are that these repairs are having an impact and freight services between Melbourne and Brisbane are meeting customer reliability requirements. However, much is still needed to be done for the passenger service.

The V/Line passenger service on this line has been a concern of the constituents of Indi for a very long time. The line links residents in north-east Victoria to Melbourne and beyond. It is used by all the community—students, families, commuters, people seeking medical treatment and business.

I am pleased to be able to report to this place that punctuality on the Albury-Wodonga line has been gradually improving over the past six months. V/Line reports that the number of trains that ran on time last month reached a whopping 94.5 per cent. This figure is a 12-month high. Compare that with the February figure of 73 per cent and the May last year figure of 88.6 per cent. So reliability on the Albury-Wodonga track is growing steadily, but it has a long way to go.

While the overall improvement is good to see and the work of the ARTC and V/Line continue, it will be a long time before the people of north-east Victoria trust the train line. Sections of the track between Seymour and Albury-Wodonga are still subject to speed restrictions as ARTC work continues. I call on the ARTC to give us all a definite date when this track work will be completed, speed restrictions will be lifted and passengers can rely on the punctuality of the train.

I note that the Victorian government's budget contained funding for a $40 million state government plan for free wi-fi on selected regional trains. The package also includes major upgrades to mobile phone coverage along some of the V/Line network. The selected regional trains were Melbourne to Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Seymour and Traralgon. Unfortunately, the selected regional trains did not include Albury-Wodonga or, my colleague in Murray, Shepparton. This certainly begs the question: why not?

Much work has also been done by Regional Development Australia and Regional Development Victoria on reviewing passenger and freight rail in the Hume region, which includes most of the electorate of Indi. Local governments have also been playing a significant role in trying to address the problems. Infrastructure Australia provides a framework for action to meet gaps, deficiencies and bottlenecks in our national infrastructure. The key challenge has been defined as 'supporting rural communities' and how to improve the quality of life and economic prosperity in rural and regional communities.

Earlier this year, Infrastructure Australia recommended a strategy for urban transport. It was noted that a lack of a widely accepted, national strategy for managing, planning and financing urban transport is an impediment to effective transport and productivity in Australia. I say, 'Hear! Hear!' It is a time for a national strategy, however, not only for urban but for rural and regional transport, as has exactly been developed for our city cousins. While there are challenges in developing such a strategy, it is imperative that rural and regional communities have connectivity to our urban centres.

These are major issues, and in Indi, north-east Victoria and Victoria generally, there is strong community and business support for improved public transport. Action is needed and needed now. Since being elected to this place, I have been meeting regularly with the local state members of parliament in Indi to discuss this issue of transport and, in particular, the unsatisfactory nature of the Albury-Wodonga railway line.

I am pleased to note that tomorrow the Premier of Victoria, Dr Denis Napthine, will be visiting Indi and, in particular, Wodonga. I would like to think that the railway line, rolling stock and access to internet and mobile phones—as well as a strategic plan for the future of transport in regional areas—will be raised by local state members with the Premier when he visits.

I will continue to meet with state and federal government ministers and members of this place on the critical issues of public transport for rural and regional communities. I commend the investment made by the state and federal governments in their respective 2014-15 budgets to build infrastructure across Australia and Victoria. But I will call out loudly in this place that rural and regional communities and our trains not be forgotten.

Rail is the backbone of public transport in Indi. It is fundamentally important for our future growth and development. In closing, I ask that all levels of government commit to supporting rural communities in line with the challenges set down by Infrastructure Australia. We need a national strategy for regional and rural transport and a strong commitment from the Victorian government to do its bit. It is long overdue. I thank the House.

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