MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell has thrown his support behind the need to explore a return of passenger rail services.
His comments come as a Regional Development Australia (RDA) Limestone Coast begins a ground-breaking study into resurrecting the mothballed rail corridor for freight purposes.
The economic development body has commissioned the CSIRO to deliver the landmark study, which will give a report card on the possibility of a viable freight rail route.
But with the Blue Lake city being stranded from the nation’s rail network, there is also momentum building for a revival in passenger services.
The call comes amid revelations Mount Gambier is just one of three of the nation’s top 50 regional centres without rail connection.
Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell said resurrecting passenger rail would deliver major economic and social benefits to the city.
While the first step was investigating reinstating freight rail, he said if that proved viable the next step would be a study into passenger rail.
But he argued the rail linkage could be most beneficial to Melbourne given Victoria’s booming population compared with South Australia.
“This would be a positive for the community given residents could get to sporting and other events by train,” Mr Bell said.
Describing the idea of “high speed rail” as fantastic, he revealed this would be a “nation building” project.
“But we could only move forward if the current study into freight rail stacks up,” the independent MP said.
“If it does not stack up, then it does not stack up.”
However, Mr Bell – who has fond memories travelling on the Mount Gambier Bluebird carriages during his youth – said it was also important to understand any rail proposal would not come overnight.
“The return of passenger rail would be a 10 to 15 year scenario,” Mr Bell said.
A report commissioned by a number of Victorian council has already investigated linking Hamilton to Melbourne with rail and has flagged the possibility of extending this to the Limestone Coast.
South Australian academics have also suggested a rail line to Adelaide could cost around $1.4b and could have stops at Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Bordertown and Murray Bridge.
RDA Limestone Coast officials this week revealed it had had fledgling talks with Victorian councils regarding the possibility of linking passenger rail services.
The Grampians and Barwon South West Region Passenger Services Study explored passenger services needs in regional Victoria.
The study covers the area from Ararat to the South Australian border and from Yarriambiack in the north to Glenelg Shire in the south.
Councils asked the study team to investigate the extent to which existing passenger services – both train and coach – supported the social and economic requirements of this large and productive region and whether the services currently provided and the infrastructure used could be improved.
Councils wanted passenger services and infrastructure that would improve social and economic access and connectivity, reduce isolation and enable the present and future residents of the region to easily connect with regional centres and Melbourne.
Improved rail services are expected to help meet social, economic, medical, educational and business needs through safe, efficient, frequent and reliable public transport.
The study explored reinstating rail to Horsham, Hamilton and other centres.