In the lead-up to the 2018 state election, the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews came to Warrnambool promising a faster, more frequent rail service.
- The Victorian government promised to bring new trains to Warrnambool ahead of the last election
- The opposition says Labor is failing to deliver on that promise, saying the government “flip-flopped”
- A government spokesperson says it’s working with the deputy premier to increase services
An upgraded Warrnambool line was part of the state government’s re-election campaign, with the $114 million upgrade a key part of the government’s $1.57 billion regional upgrade package.
The upgrade, announced mid-2017, was big news for the south-west Victorian city.
Once completed, it would enable a fifth daily service to the city from Melbourne and pave the way for VLocity trains to travel to Warrnambool for the first time, cutting travel times by up to 20 minutes.
At the time of the announcement, Mr Andrews told local media “we’ve been stuck for a while” and that he expected the upgrade to take up to 18 months to complete.
Fast forward four-and-a-half years, a little under half of which has been hampered by the impacts of a global pandemic, the project has yet to complete its first stage of construction.
Warrnambool remains without a fifth daily train service, and the new VLocity trains are a pipedream, with a recent parliamentary committee revealing new trains for the line are yet to be ordered.
It’s been 1,598 days since the announcement was made in Warrnambool.
Mother ‘devastated’ by access hurdles
Like many regional people, Warrnambool man Harvey Thulborn-McCorkell relies on public transport to get around.
The lack of services has already shaped his life.
Mr Thulborn-McCorkell, who uses a wheelchair, says he can’t attend his first-choice university due to a lack of available train services.
And just getting aboard a train can be a struggle, with the older stock that runs in Warrnambool not always accessible for people with mobility difficulties.
His mother, Kylie Thulborn, is a disability advocate.
She said she’s sick of the inequality that regional Victorians suffer when it comes to transport.
“I feel extremely frustrated, and devastated,” Ms Thulborn said.
The state opposition has slammed the government for its inaction, Nationals shadow public transport minister, Steph Ryan, said Labor lied to voters.
The government did not respond to request for an interview or respond to specific questions, instead heaping pressure on the Nationals at a federal level.
“Regional Victorians would remember the Liberal Nationals record when it comes to regional rail – they shut and they cut,” a spokesperson said.
“In contrast, we’re working with the Deputy Prime Minister to deliver building important regional rail upgrades, and the Andrews Labor Government is increasing passenger services and delivering newer, better trains for regional Victorians.”
On Friday, the state government announced that Tricia Malowney would take on the role of Victoria’s chief accessibility advocate, a new position designed to help improve accessibility across the Victorian transport network.
Works ‘ongoing’ but delays remain
According to official websites, the state government remains committed to its upgrade promise, with Upgrade Stage 1 still “in progress.”
Signal upgrades have commenced, level-crossings are being upgraded and work on a crossing loop at Boorcan, which helps trains pass and recover from “unexpected delays”, has commenced.
That work’s expected to be finished by mid-to-late next year, with construction on Stage 2 of the upgrade – which includes a stabling upgrade in Warrnambool – to be completed in late 2023.
The Public Transport Users Association criticised the government’s decision to promise the upgrades ahead the last election, saying they were never going to be completed by 2021, like was promised at the time.
Liberal Surf Coast Member, Roma Britnell, said the new trains needed to be ready to roll by 2023 when Federal Government funded upgrades are also due to be completed.
But Kylie Thulborn says she’s already sick of waiting.
“Regionally we’ve been consistently disadvantaged over a long period of time,” she said.
“It’s something that transparency has been lacking from, and it’s something that many many people have put a lot of energy into, so to have no recourse is just super frustrating.”
The state government has yet to confirm when the upgrade will be completed, however buses are currently replacing trains on the line as a construction blitz is underway until December 12.