Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Greens' Goldfields Rail Revival

The Greens' proposal (Source)
Yesterday the Greens announced a commitment to the return of passenger trains between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo, calling the project the Goldfields Rail Revival.

The project is essentially a scaled-back version of the Rail Revival Study the Coalition did a feasibility study on last year. Their media release doesn't give as many details as that study, of course, and there are no costings yet, but there are a few key details to note.

Their press release notes many of the same issues with the Coalition's study that I did in my original post. They have noted that the costings in the report were inflated by unnecessarily high track speeds, and the addition of upgrades to existing lines. Stations at Bell Post Hill, Harcourt, Golden Square, Lethbridge and Lal Lal have also disappeared from the plan, although this has been done with much less fanfare (ie they don't mention them at all).

The 1862 Bannockburn Railway Station (via Wikimedia Commons)
The Geelong section of the project looks very much as I said it should - definitely include Bannockburn, include Meredith if you really must, but don't bother with the others. The only thing I'm really unsure about here is that these two stations would not use the existing bluestone buildings, but would be "new low-cost stations" - which we can safely assume to mean just a basic platform with a bus shelter on it, a la Sherwood Park or Rockbank. I would really very much prefer to see the original station platforms used - even if you couldn't actually enter the buildings themselves - but without seeing costings for both options it's impossible to say if it's worth indulging that preference*.

Rockbank Station, which is of the standard you'd expect these new stations to be. (Source)
The Maryborough-Castlemaine section is where it gets really interesting, because not only have they kept both Carisbrook and Newstead Stations, they have also added a new one at Guildford. Of these, Newstead would use the existing station, and Carisbrook and Guildford would get the same low-cost stations as Bannockburn and Meredith. Now, of course I disagree with this just as much as I did last time - it is patently ridiculous to build a station at Guildford, with a population of 245 - but this is interesting for political reasons.

Firstly, Maryborough and Carisbrook are in Ripon, which was an extremely safe Coalition seat not so long ago, but which has been held by Labor's Joe Helper since 1999 in no small part because of the promise to return trains to the region (first Ararat, then Maryborough). Victorian state electorates are quite often won or lost on rail policy, and this is a particularly memorable example of that. Everyone wants a piece of Ripon, which is a large part of the reason the Coalition agreed to do the Rail Revival Study in the first place; for the Greens specifically, though, the primary goal is probably the upper house. The vast majority of the towns affected by this project are in the Western Victoria Region, where the Greens narrowly missed out on a quota in 2010.

The main reason I find this interesting, though, is the influence of the Rail Revival Alliance. The RRA is composed primarily of people who live between Maryborough and Castlemaine, and they have been making an awful racket trying to get this project going. Without any kind of advertising budget or even, as far as I can tell, any previous campaigning experience, they have engaged everyone from local newspapers right through to Terry Mulder, the Transport minister - and now they have very directly influenced the Greens policy. The Greens even cite the proposal put forth by RRA President Noel Laidlaw in their press release, on equal standing with the PTV feasibility study! It just goes to show what can happen when you put in the effort to advocate for something - and when you look at the Geelong-Ballarat leg, what happens when you don't.

Now, of course, the Greens aren't in government and they aren't likely to win outright at this election. But they will likely hold the balance of power in the upper house, they might even snag a seat or two in the lower house (there are several seats in Melbourne where "two party preferred" now means Labor vs Greens), and any success they have undoubtedly pulls the majors in their general direction, policy-wise.

So will this proposal get up in any form? We'll see. The Greens need to do some serious costing for their proposal, before it can be taken seriously (which should be relatively easy as a lot of the legwork has been done for the feasibility study) and ultimately this will probably depend on what Labor does in response. But nonetheless, this is a big step in the right direction.

* UPDATE: I have since been tweeting with Greg Barber, leader of the Victorian Greens, and apparently this may change; there will need to be "more detailed investigations" into whether they would re-activate existing stations or build the new low-cost ones. Again, we'll have to see what happens when a fully costed proposal is put forward.

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