In addition, rail limitations also prevent Greater Shepparton from fully realising its regional growth potential, which is a key policy objective of the State Government’s planning framework.
To inform this, Council has prepared two studies to investigate the costs and possibility of a passenger rail upgrade. The studies were adopted by Council at the Ordinary Council Meeting held on 18 April 2017:
GHD Pty Ltd and John Hearsch Consulting Pty Ltd were engaged to undertake a review of the constraints and options for achieving a service with eight daily return trains and a travel time of around two hours by 2020, and to provide a robust cost estimate for this service.
The Shepparton Passenger Rail Services Project Shepparton Passenger Improvements Report demonstrates that realistic improvements to an acceptable standard are possible subject to wider regional rail upgrades. The additional rolling stock and infrastructure improvements required to provide this level of service will cost approximately $186m.
SGS Economics and Planning Pty Ltd was engaged to identify and quantify the financial and non-financial economic benefits of the passenger rail service plan identified in the Shepparton Passenger Rail Services Project Shepparton Passenger Improvements Report for eight daily return services.
The project case is based on Scenario 2A described in the Shepparton Passenger Rail Services Project Shepparton Passenger Improvements Report. Under this scenario, Shepparton will be served by eight return rail services to Melbourne on weekdays and two of the weekend services will achieve a reduced journey time of around 2:20 hours. The Shepparton Passenger Rail Improvements Economic Impact Study found that an increase in passenger demand of 150% by 2025, which would be a reasonable expectation based on other strategic rail projects, would provide a financial benefit-cost ratio of 0.85. The benefits identified recognise Shepparton’s growing importance as a regional centre, offering improved access to goods, medical and education services and employment.
An upgrade of the Shepparton line from Seymour to Shepparton will allow for better facilities, quicker travel times and more frequent services. The State Government has identified the Shepparton line as a long haul destination but is a comparable distance from Melbourne as other regional Victorian cities. As such, Council believes that it should be identified as an intercity/commuter service to a growth centre like Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, etc.
In their report “InterCity: How regional rail can re-balance population growth and create a “state of cities” in Victoria”, July 2016, the Rail Future Institute highlighted Shepparton as having potential to support a population of 150,000 by mid-century. However, this is subject to much improved passenger services, both in terms of frequency and reduced travel times. The report stated that, although currently categorised as a long distance rail service, Shepparton should be seen as a special case because it is only 182km from Melbourne and the corridor, if upgraded, has the potential to offer a sub two-hour journey time to Melbourne.
In delivering this aspiration, Council welcomes both the recent State Government’s budget commitment to allocate $43.5million (of which $33million is for capital works) towards improved passenger rail transport, and the Federal Government’s commitment of $10million to develop and improve the Shepparton rail line. However, the State Government’s commitment does not address all infrastructure needed to realise full VLocity operation by 2020. Further works, including signalling, and track and level crossing upgrades, are costed at approximately $71.5 million.
In view of the rapid growth of Melbourne and resulting infrastructure improvements, additional pressure on Shepparton services will occur on the metropolitan section of the Shepparton line. There is an urgent need to ensure security of service and provide for future train paths in Melbourne, in the medium term, by addressing the Upfield connection.
In the long term, it will also be essential that Shepparton services are routed through a new heavy rail link via Melbourne Tullamarine Airport. Further work will be required to secure State and Federal Government commitment to ensuring that these strategic route developments deliver sustainable regional solutions.
In view of the forthcoming 2018 State elections, Council would be pleased to see commitment by current opposition parties to fully fund and deliver the eight return VLocity services by 2020 that Shepparton desperately needs. It would also be helpful if commitment to strategic network improvements and a heavy rail airport link could be also be secured.
Council has requested that the State Government prepare the necessary business case for passenger rail services and infrastructure upgrades in the 2017/2018 budget. This will also ensure the rail upgrade project is ready for capital funding in the 2018/19 state budgets.