By Paul Hemsley
The Gippsland Local Government Network (GLGN) has mounted a concerted push for the Victorian and federal governments to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of a high speed rail route through its local government areas in addition to the presently preferred Hume region, arguing that the railway could be more economically beneficial if built through regional areas.
The proposed high speed rail line project between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, estimated to cost at $144 billion, has stirred great enthusiasm among potential recipients because of the economic benefits that could flow from regional development, tourism and relief from commuter traffic congestion in capital cities.
These are the potential benefits that the GLRN and East Gippsland Shire, Richard Ellis has claimed could make a significant impact on the region because an extension of high speed rail through Gippsland with stations and Dandenong, Pakenham, Warragul, Traralgon, Bairnsdale and Cann River would place these cities within commuting distance with Melbourne and Canberra, lower housing costs and improve the city economies.
Mr Ellis has pleaded with the Victorian and federal governments to re-assess the Gippsland corridor before deciding on the preferred route for high speed rail and the GLGN has commissioned further transport modelling and economic assessment work to support its case.
The lack of a high speed rail route through the Gippsland region has emerged as a headache for the local governments (including Bass Coast Shire, Baw Baw Shire, East Gippsland Shire, Latrobe City, South Gippsland Shire and Wellington Shire) and industries because of the conclusions made by the federal government through its High Speed Rail Study reports – which have impeded on the Gippsland region’s hopes of improved economies as a result of a high speed rail route.
Instead of a route through Gippsland as the councils wanted, the Phase 2 report from the federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport adopted a deviation through Shepparton (the Hume region) and a spur line to connect Canberra.
But the GLGN has claimed that this deviation and spur line extend the track length for Melbourne to Sydney from 823km to 877km and would increase the cost from $37.5 billion to $49.9 billion.
Mr Ellis said this casts “serious doubt” over the Phase 1 decision to drop the Gippsland route from further consideration due to cost alone.
“The estimated track length from Melbourne to Sydney via the Gippsland alignment is 950km with an estimated cost of $53.2 billion, only 6.6 per cent more than the currently preferred Hume region route.
According to Mr Ellis, the Gippsland corridor was “eliminated prematurely”.
He claims that although costs are higher than the preferred Hume option, the benefits are also higher.
Mr Ellis expanded on these benefits by saying that a Gippsland route would improve access to the Gippsland Lakes, Snowfields and South-East Australian coast and would be a “significant impetus” to increased tourism in the area.
He said that high speed rail through Gippsland would ease traffic congestion on the existing Melbourne east-west transport corridor and that all services would travel through Canberra via the Gippsland corridor as opposed to only dedicated services on the Hume corridor via a spur line.
He claimed this would ease airport congestion in Melbourne and Sydney and that all Melbourne-to-Sydney services would bypass Canberra on the presently preferred Hume corridor.