Rail Revival group holds Vic govt to its promises

Issue 
Rail Revival Alliance rally at Carisbrook, Victoria. Photo by Duncan Ramsay

The Rail Revival Alliance is a group formed in response to the Victorian coalition government’s Rail Revival feasibility study into returning passenger trains between Geelong, Ballarat, and Bendigo via Meredith and Newstead. After being let down by the previous state Labor government, the group is now determined to hold the coalition state government to their policy.

Public Transport Victoria conducted the Rail Revival Study and have surmised that the project is not economical as the costs for infrastructure would out weight the predicted benefits. Instead PTV are considering the introduction of increased coach services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo so that passengers do not have to travel via Melbourne.

However it seems that the Transport Minister will not rule out the Rail Revival project, and has recently stated that the department is still looking into more economical means for the project to go ahead.

Sarah Hathway interviewed Rail Revival Alliance member Noel Laidlaw for Green Left Weekly.

SH: How and when did the Rail Revival Alliance start, and by the sounds of the name, was it an amalgamation of different lobby/protest groups?
NL:I had been involved for a considerable period of time in public transport politics, particularly in the country going right back to when they were cutting services in the late 1970s. At that time I was secretary of the Bendigo Trades Hall Council. My family goes right back to the 1880s in the railways it was pretty close to our hearts.
The Rail Revival Alliance is named after the Transport Minister’s Rail Revival policy and is comprised of a whole multiplicity of different people of all ages and political alignments. The Rail Revival Alliance itself is a non-partisan group. This is why it’s a great group, if you’re going to do any good you’ve got to have a broad coalition of people. If you just go off on an issue on your own, almost invariably you’re going to get beat because you’ve got to have that broad community basis otherwise politicians won’t listen to you.

Regional Victoria is a fairly spread out area, how has the group managed to organise itself across such a wide area?
Fairly simply, we’ve just used Facebook. And of course in generating some publicity, that generates people’s interest. Activity breeds activity, in the lead up to the rally we had in Carisbrook our Facebook group went from 47 to 200 in about three weeks. Petitions have also helped as people can take ownership of that, and take it around their own friends, family and community.

month you had a rally at Carisbrook Station. Is this the first action organised by the group? How did the day go?
The day went extremely well. We had over 200 people there. It was the first action we had organised beyond petitions and letter writing so it was the first time we had all gotten together.

It seems very recently you had a victory with Talbot station reopening? Do you believe this resulted from the actions and lobbying taken by the Rail Revival Alliance?
We can’t claim the Talbot station reopening as our victory as it has been part of the Transport Minister’s policy for some time, but we’re happy it’s reopened. It’s great to see a politician carry out what they say they’re going to do.

Public Transport Victoria has come out and said that trains aren’t the answer, that increased bus services are more economical. What is your response to their claim?
This statement was taken from a document Public Transport Victoria put out in June, claiming it would cost $900 million for the Rail Revival project, which was not economical. However the Transport Minister stated two weeks ago that they’re still looking into the most efficient way of putting these trains back. So we will continue to build support behind the Minister’s policy.

What do you consider to be the benefits of rail over other forms of transport either public or private?
Rail is cleaner, more efficient, more comfortable, and more accessible. Buses are ok for short travel, and they’re the cheaper option however the bus companies tend to be privately owned, sometimes un-unionised, whilst rail has better safety standards and in the long term, is more economical and sustainable.

The East West Tunnel protesters have been in the media recently, and have copped a fair bit of negative press, has the Rail Revival Alliance experienced anything similar in your campaign?
The Rail Revival Alliance hasn’t received negative press; however we’re not as much on the pointy edge as the East West Tunnel picketers. It’s a bit hard for the media to attack us when we’re supporting the Transport Minister’s own policy.

Also in regards to the East West Tunnel protests, if they win and stop the project from going ahead, how do you think this will affect the Rail Revival Alliance campaign?
It would put a lot more money back in to public transport as opposed to the tunnel which is a money pit.

And if the Government pushes ahead with this project and ignores the wishes of the public, how do you think that will affect your campaign?
It seems the only way this would happen is if the Labor Party reneged on their promise to scrap the East West Tunnel project. The Liberal Party are copping a lot of negative feedback from Abbott’s crowd, unless they win regional seats, we’ll be looking at a Labor government this time next year.

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