BY JANE CANAWAY
31 Mar, 2009 03:00 AM
“DOING nothing is not an option.” That is what Macedon MP Joanne Duncan told more than 500 residents who crammed into Sunbury’s Memorial Hall to discuss electrification of the rail line last Tuesday.
“Failure to tackle the problem now means busy rail lines will ‘hit the wall’,” she said.
Combined with expert opinion that electrification is the best way to solve the Sunbury line’s rail problems, it is the closest the State Government has come to declaring the plan will go ahead, despite public opposition.
The vocal crowd loudly decried those defending the plans and cheered any criticism of the Connex train service. They overwhelmingly approved a motion drafted by Sunbury Residents Association, which organised the meeting, demanding the State Government drop the $270million project and spend the money increasing the train line’s capacity instead.
A few spoke in favour of electrification.
After about two hours of debate and questions, one woman asked Ms Duncan: “Is this a done deal – are we wasting our time coming here?”
“When governments make decisions about infrastructure they don’t often do it by a plebiscite or poll,” Ms Duncan replied.
“If we don’t do this, what do we do?”
Several people left the meeting as a result.
A rail expert advising the Department of Transport, Simon Lane, said the rail line through Footscray was close to capacity at its busiest peaks, making the system “increasingly unstable”.
He said a maximum of 20 trains an hour could travel on the Footscray line, and at its busiest the system carried 17.
To carry the projected number of passengers on V/Line-style trains would mean running 22 trains an hour.
“Those sort of trains are not OK for fast, metropolitan use because it takes passengers too long to get off – we have a maximum stopping time of 30 seconds at each station,” he said.
The trains used by Connex allowed faster passenger movement, Mr Lane said.
Department of Transport director of rail projects Michelle Jackson explained the plan to the meeting, saying both Diggers Rest and Sunbury stations would be upgraded.
But when she announced 100 new parking places at Sunbury, she was jeered with calls of “Where?”
A groan went up when 500 new parking places were announced for Diggers Rest.
Ms Jackson promised double the number of weekday trains and about triple the number at weekends. Trains would start earlier and run later and also be more frequent.
“Sunbury customers will also have full access to all metropolitan train stations along the route,” Ms Jackson promised.
“We don’t want it,” came the rumble from the crowd.
Ms Jackson said V/Line trains carried only half the number of passengers of metropolitan trains.
She said the planned new service would take only three minutes longer to reach North Melbourne, and would offer passengers the benefit of going directly through the loop to Flinders Street station instead of only to Southern Cross.
“Electrification provides a long-term solution that caters for the impact of population growth.
“It will also provide Sunbury and Diggers Rest passengers with a quality transport service comparable to the rest of metropolitan Melbourne,” Ms Jackson said, to raucous laughter.