Residents around Koo Wee Rup are petitioning to restore parts of the South Gippsland line to return passenger trains to the region.
- The Cardinia Shire’s population increased by 24,000 people between 2015 and 2020
- Proponents for restoring the line say it could help to slow urban sprawl and improve employment opportunities
- A Liberal candidate who supports the plan says it is likely to take time to come to fruition
The community group Restore Rup Rail is seeking a commitment from the major parties to rebuild the rail line between Clyde and Koo Wee Rup outside Melbourne’s south-eastern fringe, with an additional station at Tooradin.
The campaign is collecting signatures for a petition to lodge with the Victorian Parliament.
Restore Rup Rail founder Travis Mitchell, 34, said the community response to the campaign had been “absolutely fantastic”.
“It’s very clear that a rail return would be used and welcome,” Mr Mitchell said.
“The buses — they’re a disaster.
“They mismatch with each other and I think a lot of people have forgotten that there’s a perfectly good rail corridor in our backyard.”
The Tooradin resident is aiming to collect about 6,000 signatures in support of the railway, with the aim of reducing road congestion and improving accessibility.
Koo Wee Rup station, on the South Gippsland line, closed in July 1993.
Parts of the railway being have been converted into walking tracks, but most remain intact.
“I think it’s time that we make a point to those in power that it’s time for our fair share of rail infrastructure,” Mr Mitchell said.
Healesville to Koo Wee Rup road upgrade
Mr Mitchell said many locals drove to Pakenham for the train, but the road was busy and in poor condition.
Major Road Projects Victoria says more than 4,200 heavy vehicles per day use Healesville-Koo Wee Rup Road, which crosses through Pakenham.
The road is now being upgraded to improve safety and congestion, but Mr Mitchell said a railway would help.
“You’ve got so many B-double trucks on it now because all the freight is on the road,” he said.
“Thirty to 35 years ago you had sand, you had phosphate, you had oil — all on the rail.”
A railway to connect Cranbourne with Clyde is already being planned.
Ninety-seven per cent of residents support the project, which is estimated to cost between $1.5 to $3 billion, according to the City of Casey.
“Fifteen more kilometres isn’t a lot considering that when you look at most of the metro lines, a large portion of them have been completely rebuilt with all these level crossing removals,” Mr Mitchell said.
Cranbourne to Clyde railway
Rail Futures, an independent think tank that advocates for sustainable public transport, doubts the railway will be restored.
“Most of the land east of Clyde is green wedge, so it’s not earmarked, at the moment, for urban development,” executive committee member Peter Tesdorpf said.
“And there are so many other rail infrastructure projects that need to be done around Melbourne.”
But Mr Tesdorpf said the railway was more likely to be rebuilt if a second airport near Koo Wee Rup was opened or for freight if surrounding quarries were mined.
“They could be quarried, and they probably will be in the future to meet the demand for building materials as Melbourne grows,” he said.
Melbourne’s urban sprawl has caused a spike in population in regional Victoria.
Cardinia Shire’s population grew by more 24,000 between 2015 and 2020.
Mr Tesdorpf said Melbourne’s continuous growth was unsustainable, unmanageable and removed valuable farmland.
“The problem we have in Melbourne is that we tend to allow new suburbs to be built on the edges of the city and we don’t provide proper public transport at the time they built,” he said.
Koo Wee Rup resident Kerrie Sheehan opposes the campaign and said the area lacked resources to support new residents.
“If you want to build more [housing] estates, you’ve got to build more resources,” she said.
She said the green wedges should be preserved and that more walking and bike tracks should be created.
Employment linked to access
Mr Tesdorpf said trains were “vital” for regional communities and increased access to jobs.
“In a lot of regional areas there aren’t enough jobs, so people have to travel to the larger centres,” he said.
“But it’s also very important to access education and health services.”
Rob Darby, director of Drouin’s GBS Recruitment, said regional Victorians who do not drive faced barriers to employment.
“When we register people to help them, one of the questions on the registration form is ‘Do you have a licence and do you have a car?'” he said.
“If we’ve got someone in this region, can they get to this other region reliably and effectively to do the role?
State Liberal candidate for Bass Aaron Brown is supporting the Restore Rup Rail petition and said Bass Coast and Cardinia shire residents would benefit from the railway, although it may not be rebuilt soon.
“These types of projects are high cost and realistically it’s going to be a longer-term project,” he said.
A government spokesperson said the Department of Transport was considering a rail link to Koo Wee Rup.
“Locals have told us that a rail link to Clyde and then Koo Wee Rup is vital for this growing community and that’s why we’ve invested $7 million to begin planning the link,” they said.