Grattan Institute questions value of better Geelong-Melbourne rail
A NEW report from the Grattan Institute questions whether spending billions on improving railway services between Geelong and Melbourne would be worth it.
The report, “Fast Train Fever”, states “every proposed rail renovation project in Australia should be reviewed in light of the COVID-19 crisis”.
However, Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson – who pledged $2 billion towards Geelong-Melbourne fast rail leading up to the 2019 federal election – has dismissed the criticism, and said fast rail connections between Melbourne and regional cities were vital.
According to the Grattan Institute, rail renovations might improve life for people in regional cities, “but even so, they’re unlikely to fulfil the overblown claims made for them: that they’d take pressure off crowded capital cities while at the same time boosting struggling regions”.
“Australia’s regional towns have more pressing infrastructure needs than faster rail, including better internet and mobile connectivity and freight links.”
The report concedes Geelong is a destination where a rail renovation would most likely lead to a feasible commute to the capital city, but only about 14,000 people from Geelong regularly commuted to Melbourne for work.
It also notes most regional public transport users are CBD workers, and most of the jobs in Melbourne are not in the CBD.
“If Geelong’s 3,400 public transport commuters to the Melbourne CBD doubled, that would be just 3.0 per cent of Melbourne’s population growth in a year.”
The report states “faster passenger rail is a puny force against 100 years of inexorable urbanisation”.
“The best evidence suggests the capital would be more likely to gain at the expense of the town or distant regional city, not vice versa.”
In 2016, the Grattan Institute also questioned the amount of money spent on upgrading the Princes Highway between Geelong and Colac, noting “too much has been spent on highways that are not especially important to the economy, but are popular with local voters”.
Senator Henderson – who was the Liberal candidate for Corangamite at the time – rejected the institute’s analysis then, and did so again about the “Fast Train Fever” report.
“I don’t place a lot of faith in its assessment of the infrastructure needs of regional Victoria,” she said.
“Fast rail connections between Melbourne and Victorian regional cities including Geelong are vital.
“Governments must plan for the future growth of the state.”
Peak Geelong lobby group G21 continues to call for urgent investment into better Geelong-Melbourne rail, citing figures that showed Geelong’s growth rate was 14.2 per cent over the past five years.
“When you put Geelong’s growth into a national context, is it unacceptable that the fastest growing regional city in Australia is still begging for a decent rail service to Melbourne,” G21 chief executive officer Elaine Carbines said.
“Governments continue to procrastinate about a solution to congested, slow train services between Melbourne and Geelong. A solution is now a decade into the future and gets further away every day we delay.”