No matter who wins the Victorian election, Geelong and Ballarat have been promised faster trains to Melbourne in a game of one-upmanship between the major parties.
Labor Premier Daniel Andrews on Tuesday revealed plans for a potential tunnel beneath Melbourne stretching to Sunshine as part of the airport rail link, and dedicated tracks for Geelong and Ballarat to speed up travel times.
The proposed separation of regional and metro services on the two lines would involve extending electric services to Melton and Wyndham Vale.
“This is about giving back to regional Victorians dedicated regional track so they’re not … competing with metro trains in the fastest growing part of our city,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
The travel time goal for Geelong-to-Melbourne is about 35 minutes and from Ballarat to Melbourne is less than an hour, with trains running about 200km/h.
Labor is promising $100 million to a business case for the western rail works if re-elected at the November 24 election.
Extra tracks would be needed between Sunshine and the city, most likely through a new rail tunnel.
Mr Andrews said the duplications would be possible within the existing rail corridors and separation of tracks had to happen before faster trains can be delivered.
The full plan is expected to take about a decade to complete.
The business case would start next year in conjunction with those for the government’s promised suburban rail loop and airport rail link.
The announcement comes in response to the opposition Liberal-Nationals’ promise of European-style fast rail.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has promised $19 billion for high-speed regional rail across Victoria, reducing the Geelong-Melbourne journey just 32 minutes.
An initial injection of $3 billion over four years would kickstart the project, with the speedy service from Geelong expected to be achieved in that time, according to the coalition.
“Electrification will certainly happen in the longer haul, but those in regional Victoria should not be held back from the extra capacity they deserve,” opposition public transport spokesman David Davis told reporters on Tuesday.
Mr Davis said a tunnel was just one option to get more trains through the CBD but there was space for another outbound rail line.
Committee for Geelong chief Rebecca Casson said Geelong would be a winner no matter who wins government.
The Property Council of Australia backed the proposals of both political persuasions.
The government is also promising planning for a suburban rail loop from the southeast of Melbourne to the west, connecting outer suburbs to the airport without the need to head into the CBD.
That promise has federal Labor support.
The airport rail link has bipartisan support on federal and state levels.