Defunct stations would be rebuilt, new train tracks laid and two brand new train fleets bought to achieve the Coalition’s $19 billion “European-style” fast regional rail plan.
On Wednesday, Liberal leader Matthew Guy promised that if he wins the November election, trains will zoom to regional areas at 200km/h, services will run express to Geelong, and much of the V/Line track would be rebuilt.
The pre-election rail pitch to regional Victoria – where the Coalition is vying to win or retain seats such as Shepparton, Bass, South Barwon and Ripon – would take a decade to build.
Trips from Melbourne to Ballarat would be cut from 73 to 45 minutes, the Coalition said. It would take 70 minutes to get to Bendigo (now 103 minutes) and 117 minutes to Shepparton (now 146 minutes).
The plan is a bid to encourage people to "decentralise", or move to the regions, as Melbourne absorbs enormous population growth, Mr Guy said.
“Bringing Victoria’s cities closer together with European-style high speed rail is the cornerstone of the Liberal-Nationals plan to ease the population squeeze."
The rail plan would "give Victorians more options for affordable housing, more lifestyle choices and more employment opportunities," Mr Guy said.
In a pledge warmly welcomed by regional councils, the Coalition promised to reopen defunct train services to Mildura, Horsham, Donald and Hamilton.
Two fleets of next generation trains would be purchased for $633 million.
But questions remain over how – and when – the multi-billion dollar plan could realistically be delivered.
Key to the proposal is delivering 32-minute services to Geelong by 2022 - an enormous feat outright dismissed as “impossible” by Labor and labelled "extremely ambitious" by Victorian rail think-tank Rail Futures Institute.
To achieve this, the Coalition would have to build a tunnel from Southern Cross to Sunshine.
New tracks between Sunshine and Wyndham Vale in Melbourne’s west would be needed to give Geelong trains direct access to the city.
Mr Guy conceded on ABC Radio Melbourne that level crossings along the corridor would also need to be removed, but he ruled out building the controversial sky rail.
Some of these upgrades are already on the cards.
The consortium bidding to build the $13 billion airport rail link has proposed a tunnel to Sunshine.
And there is already space for two extra tracks along the busy rail corridor between Wyndham Vale and Sunshine, allowing for future upgrades.
But a government spokeswoman said building all of this within four years was “impossible”.
“Based on Metro Tunnel, construction would take up to seven years, plus up to three years business case, design and procurement, pushing the timeline forward to 2025-28,” she said.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan said the Liberal party “can’t be trusted” with improving the regional rail network.
“In the past, they’ve closed country train lines, they’ve closed country train stations, they’ve cut funding to V/Line and had plans to sack jobs in V/Line services.”
Express tracks could also be built from Gippsland to the city along the Caulfield/Dandenong corridor – potentially through a "tunnel" – while extra track could be built to Melton on the Ballarat line, Mr Guy said on ABC Radio Melbourne.
These upgrades would amount to major construction works, and a detailed plan was needed, Bill Russell of the Rail Future Institute said.
“For this to be realistic we would expect it to have a serious plan for overcoming or achieving separation of regional and suburban trains," he said.
“That doesn’t mean you have to solve all of those six corridors on day one but it does mean you need to have a sequential plan for resolving those problems.”
Questions have also been raised about how much of the V/Line track would ultimately need to be rebuilt to a "200km/h track grade".
Most of the regional network is Class 1 track, allowing for a maximum speed of 160km/h.
High-speed trains also require smoother curves than those on sections of the current track.
Whether the track would be re-aligned or brand new track built needs to be confirmed, Public Transport Users Association regional spokesman Paul Westcott said.
It also wasn't clear how the rail plan would boost poor punctuality and reliability crippling V/Line services, Mr Westcott said.
Labor has set aside $50 million to plan for a high-speed rail link to Geelong.
I'm not sure Guy has any idea.