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NEARLY a decade since the last feasibility study into returning passenger rail to the Mildura line, the prospect of a more up-to-date analysis has been welcomed by a train advocacy leader.
Mildura Council's North West Passenger Transport Study was included as one of 15 priorities in a new seven-council regional transport strategy launched this week.
The study, also part of council's Future Ready push, will canvass a range of transport needs, including passenger rail.
NorthWest Rail Alliance president Christian Mitchell said a lot had changed since 2010, when a State Government study assessed the viability of returning the train.
The Mildura line has since been converted from broad gauge to standard gauge.
Mr Mitchell said the past study only considered the costs and benefits of a passenger service, without incorporating the value to freight services of upgraded rail.
"Organisations such as Infrastructure Victoria have fallen back on that study, which is just irrelevant, and they've often used that as an excuse not to list passenger rail as a priority for the region," he said.
"Obviously now we have a standard gauge network ... the infrastructure's now different, the costings will be different when the Murray Basin Rail Project is finished properly."
Mr Mitchell said once the Murray Basin project was finished, putting trains back on the Mildura line would be a realistic proposition for the government.
"We want to look at an investigation of having a passenger rail shuttle that runs from Maryborough to Mildura and connects with the existing V/Line network at Maryborough," he said.
"I think that's a really simple way to do things and makes it as simple as possible for the government to seriously look at it."
The Murray Basin project stalled this year, with Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan in June admitting the project's $440 million budget was almost fully spent.
Mildura councillor Greg Brown, who was at Wednesday's strategy launch, said getting the existing freight line upgrades delivered was an important step.
"The rail isn't up to handling the freight yet," Cr Brown said.
"You can't put a VLocity train on rail that's only capable of 50 or 80km/h, and really there is a lot of work to be done with crossings and upgrades."
Fellow Mildura councillor Mark Eckel planned to take a trip to Melbourne using V/Line's existing bus and train connection before council next meets.
Cr Eckel said the purpose of the trip was to "experience it for myself following numerous complaints about the service".
This article first appeared on www.sunraysiadaily.com.au
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