Nationals flag tunnel or new line to ease rail woes

Nationals candidate for Morwell Sheridan Bond says the party is investigating the possibility of a tunnel or new rail line to ease congestion on the Gippsland line. Pictured with Nationals leader Peter Walsh. file photograph

Nationals candidate for Morwell Sheridan Bond says the party is investigating the possibility of a tunnel or new rail line to ease congestion on the Gippsland line. Pictured with Nationals leader Peter Walsh. file photograph

A tunnel  between Pakenham and Melbourne or a dedicated rail corridor on a site separate from the Pakenham line are being considered by the Nationals before committing to a pre-election promise.

Nationals Party candidate for Morwell Sheridan Bond revealed yesterday the party was investigating ways to reduce travel time and improve punctuality, and said acquisition of land for a dedicated line was one possibility being considered.

She said a dedicated line would slash travel time for regional commuters and a new passage of land – separate from the existing line – could be a way to boost connectivity with Gippsland and a way to win votes.

The party was also pricing plans to construct a tunnel from Pakenham into the city as it claims the newly-constructed 'sky rail' has prevented the possibility of a dedicated line alongside the existing rail corridor.

"A separate dedicated line in a different location is being investigated," Ms Bond told The Express yesterday.

"We're looking at all options and acquisition of land will have to be something that's considered.

"A tunnel option would run from the metro section of the line at Pakenham through to Melbourne."

At the Nationals conference in May party leader Peter Walsh announced he would support plans to create a second rail line similar to the dedicated regional rail link between Melbourne and Geelong, opened in 2015 at a cost of $3.65 billion.

However, Labor MP and member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing described Ms Bond's statements as a "baseless pledge" which was trying "fool" Gippslanders.

"This latest promise from the Nationals reads like an episode of Yes, Minister – there's no detail, no costings, no actual funding and no timeframes about what, if anything, will actually be delivered if the Coalition is returned to government," Ms Shing said.

"After promising that a Nationals' government will deliver a duplicated line for Gippsland in recent weeks they now appear to be backing away from this baseless pledge at a million miles an hour.

"It's clear the Nationals and their Liberal masters have no intention of delivering a dedicated Gippsland line. In fact, when they were last in Government the Coalition cut $120 million from V/Line, had a secret plan to sack 100 workers and didn't upgrade one single kilometre of track - now they're trying to fool Gippslanders with more promises that quite simply have no substance or detail to back them up."

Ms Shing described a potential tunnel - or a separate dedicated line - as "empty promises" and said it would hurt the hip-pocket of the taxpayer.

"The Nationals are completely beholden to the Liberals on infrastructure spending and Matthew Guy has already promised to spend billions on elevated roads in Melbourne, so where will these billions come from?," she said.

"In contrast, work has already begun on the $530 million Gippsland Line Upgrade to increase parking and station amenity through our record investment in the improvements that our region deserves as we grow."

But Ms Bond said commuters were experiencing "miserable performance" on the Gippsland line and commuters were dealing with longer delays and the worst punctuality in the state.

"The punctuality is the big thing because a lot of people that I talk to are going to Melbourne for business meetings or appointments and you just can't guarantee that you'll get to your appointment or meeting on time," Ms Bond said.

"We've committed to options to developing a dedicated Gippsland line and unfortunately with the sky rail that has sort of put a spanner in the works as to the options available.

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