High-speed rail link backed

By Thomas Moir

A Melbourne to Shepparton leg is again being flagged as part of a ‘‘fast rail’’ project and part of a Federal Government population plan.

And the Committee for Greater Shepparton says it makes sense to connect regional centres like Shepparton with capital cities as a priority before connecting major cities.

But C4GS chief Sam Birrell said infrastructure spend needed to assist with any population growth that a broader regional strategy should follow and cautioned against Shepparton becoming a dormitory suburb of Melbourne.

A ‘‘fast rail’’ project involving links between Melbourne and Shepparton, Sydney and Newcastle and Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast formed part of a population plan released by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Labor says Australia needs a ‘‘genuine’’ high-speed rail project to link big cities with regional centres.

Mr Morrison said details would be revealed in the April 2 budget.

He yesterday described a Melbourne to Brisbane fast rail project as ‘‘very ambitious’’.

Mr Birrell said an opportunity existed to connect Melbourne with regional centres via fast rail and argued Victoria was in a rare chance to do so.

‘‘We do think there’s an opportunity to link a global city which is Melbourne to major regional centres via high-speed rail.

‘‘And Victoria has this unique opportunity because there are five major regional centres within 200km.

‘‘One of those centres is on the proposed route to Sydney, if a proposed route was ever going to be built, and also has benefit of significant urban water allocation, which makes population growth possible.’’

Mr Birrell described the fast rail proposal as something that often was discussed in the context of a Melbourne to Sydney very fast train, but that successive governments had found had not stacked up.

‘‘I’ll be very interested to see what comes out in the federal budget.

‘‘Whether this is a kite-flying exercise or something real. There appears to be some bipartisan approach in this area ... What we continue to advocate for is a major regional strategy and population strategy of which rail is just one part.’’

Referencing Shepparton’s inclusion on high-speed rail proposals, Mr Birrell said wherever high-speed rail travelled, in relation to a Melbourne to Sydney corridor, ‘‘we need to get some regional centres connected first’’ and that ‘‘Shepparton would be a logical place to start’’.

‘‘We want these rail links to open up regional centres and enhance communities,’’ he said.

But it could not be created in isolation.

‘‘If there is population growth in Shepparton, which that will lead to ... we’ve got to make sure that population growth is planned and catered for by infrastructure,’’ Mr Birrell said.

‘‘The other thing I want to see is high-speed rail enable Shepparton to grow in its own right, with industry, community, infrastructure.

‘‘We don’t want to see it become a dormitory suburb with a large proportion jumping on the train to go to Melbourne ... I don’t think high-speed rail has to do that.’’

— with AAP