Show us the money to improve Echuca train journey: Walsh

By Ivy Jensen

MEMBER for Murray Plains Peter Walsh is looking for the millions, even hundreds of millions, of dollars that have been spent on upgrading the Echuca-Bendigo train line.

But he said he couldn't find the money anywhere.

In April 2017, the Victorian Government announced a $91 million spend on the Echuca-Bendigo line so it could go at 130 km/h instead of the current 80 km/h.

In May 2017, a $3 billion deal was announced between Canberra and the Victorian Government for regional rail improvements, including the Echuca-Bendigo line.

Victorian Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said at the time “it’s the next step of our regional rail revival, investing in the public transport that regional Victorians deserve and can rely on”.

In July 2018, the Victorian Government claimed regional passenger rail services on the Bendigo/Echuca line were set to become quicker and more reliable.

The government claimed the project was also expected to increase frequency and capacity of rail services, allowing trains to travel quicker, reducing travel times and getting local passengers where they need to go sooner.

Construction works were set to begin in late 2018.

“And the trains still run slow because the track is not safe enough,” Mr Walsh said.

In October 2019, the Victorian Government announced two consortia had been shortlisted to deliver signalling works as part of the Bendigo and Echuca line upgrade.

VicConnect comprises UGL Limited, Decmil and Arup, and the other consortium comprises CPB Contractors, John Holland, WSP and SMEC.

Ms Allan said “we’re getting on and delivering the infrastructure needed to run more trains more often”.

On July 6, Ms Allan released a public statement saying the Echuca-Bendigo line was set to benefit from “faster and more frequent train services as part of a $300 million regional rail funding boost”.

“This extra funding will get shovels in the ground faster — delivering more trains, more often,” she said.

Mr Walsh said nothing had changed.

“The Andrews Labor Government in general, and Transport Minister Jacinta Allan in particular, have had untold millions to splash around on the Echuca-Bendigo line — and nothing has happened,” he said.

“We have been shovel ready, we have had tenders called, we have had bazillions of dollars guaranteed for more trains and faster trains.

“However, as of today, we still only have one train a day to Melbourne (and two on Saturday and Sundays) and those trains still run slow because the track is not safe enough.

“Minister Allan, where has all the money gone? And if you still have some tucked away in your bottom drawer, could we borrow it for a while, and we will get the job done.”

Ms Allan said since the project was announced, the scope of the Bendigo and Echuca line upgrades had been expanded to deliver additional benefits for passengers.

She said work was progressing to integrate delivery of new stations at Goornong, Huntly and Raywood with the delivery program for the Bendigo and Echuca line upgrade, following a $49.6 million Victorian Government investment in Bendigo Metro 3.

She said the Bendigo and Echuca line upgrade would also see two new weekday return services for passengers in Echuca — one more than originally committed and triple the number of current services.

“Passengers will be more connected more often, thanks to the extensive investment in the Bendigo and Echuca line by both the state and federal governments,” she said.

“The project has expanded twice since it was first announced in 2017, and a large amount of work is taking place to combine these additional upgrades into a consolidated delivery program, which will ensure fewer disruptions and more benefits for passengers.”