Rail Safety Legislation Amendment (National Services Delivery and Related Reforms) Bill 2019

September 10, 2019
I am pleased to make a contribution on the Rail Safety Legislation Amendment (National Services Delivery and Related Reforms) Bill 2019 currently before the house. It appears that there is very little controversy about this bill, and it is aligning the regulatory responsibilities of Transport Safety Victoria and the federal Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator in a way that is prudent and that the government has decided finally to do, Victoria being one of the last to come to this position and to hand over that responsibility to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator.
Rail safety is obviously a really important issue, and we have seen some significant tragedies over a long period, really. The two that spring to mind are the Southern Aurora accident near Violet Town and of course the Kerang one more recently. That train crash, when a truck ran into a passenger train, was a devastating event, and they always are. Rail safety where you have got so many people in a constrained space in carriages are always shocking. I often remember that I was at home packing on the day of the Granville train disaster, and as the news rolled out you just had that awful feeling of something very big and very tragic having happened. There is a sense in which you get on a train, you do not really think about safety. When you are behind the wheel of a car, you are very conscious about a whole range of things because you are in control, you are doing the driving, you are responsible. You hand all of that over when you get on a train and yet the need for government to ensure that trains are truly safe is a huge responsibility, and fortunately in this country we have had few terrible incidents and we want it to stay that way. Much of the work that gets done is often behind the scenes. I know in my electorate people often complain about the fact that they will show up to the station to get a train and there is a bus waiting, and very often the reason for that is because necessary works are being done on the tracks somewhere between Shepparton and Seymour or Seymour and Melbourne that are required to ensure ongoing safety.
People love to talk about trains—I know I do. I got elected on the back of a short campaign in 2014 and one of the major platforms that I had was to improve passenger rail services for Shepparton—faster, better and more of them. It was a long, hard campaign, but I am very pleased to say that by 2018 much of what we had asked for was funded. I have often travelled on the train between Shepparton and Melbourne, and as the train stops at a particular railway station you will be advised to make sure that you move to the carriage at the front because the platforms are simply not long enough for the train and you do not want to step out on to the ground where there is no platform. You would sustain a serious injury. I recall back in 2015 we had a demonstration where people from my community dressed in their pyjamas and got on the 6.30 train from Shepparton all the way to Southern Cross. They marched up Bourke Street to the steps of Parliament, where we met with the Minister for Public Transport to make the point about, one, the lack of services; two, how slow they were, how early you had to get up and even if you got up that early and got on a train you were not going to make it to Melbourne in time for any sort of 9 o’clock appointment. So there were a number of points that we sought to make, and over the ensuing years and with the strong advocacy coming out of our community we convinced the government that Shepparton did need better services. I am pleased to say we have now got a fifth service running every day. We have got many more bus services connecting us between Shepparton and Seymour, where there are 20 trains a day, and Seymour even has a few VLocity trains from time to time on it.

It is still a pretty second-rate service in that the trains that we have between Shepparton and Seymour are the very old classic fleet. Once upon a time they would probably have been thought of as just fabulous trains, but 50 or 60 years later they are slow, they rattle around, they are really not what anyone else across the state experiences, except I think those on the Warrnambool line and perhaps the Bairnsdale line. So we see when we stop at Southern Cross station the new trains that are going to Geelong, to Bendigo, to Ballarat—the VLocity trains that are new and modern, they have quiet carriages, they have free wi-fi—and we look longingly at those. The situation is that there is something like $356 million that has been allocated by the government to invest in our rail upgrades and that will include the additional services we have. There is already the stabling at Shepparton station that enables an extra train, the fifth service, to stay overnight and be secure. There is a lot more work to be done and this includes signalling, which I understand to be a very expensive part of any upgrade of rail; lengthening the platforms, as I have mentioned; track work; something like 58 level crossings just between Shepparton and Seymour. Now, a lot of those are cattle/sheep crossings. Some of them are on farms and some of them are on side roads so they all present challenges and they will all have to be dealt with. Some of them will have to be maintained. Some of them will need boom gates on them when they are on more significant roads, but it is all those sorts of things which slow our trains down. So whenever the train comes towards any level crossing such as that, it has to slow down very significantly. There are very few parts of the state where the capacity of a VLocity train is actually able to be demonstrated, and I am told there is some area between Melbourne and Bendigo where a VLocity train can actually reach 160 kilometres an hour just for a little while.

So we have a lot of challenges just in our landscape and in the way our countryside was developed in terms of roads, level crossings and the like that really stand in the way of getting the speeds that even our existing trains are capable of. Again, all that slowing down is part of the issue around safety. It is not only the safety of the people who may be in vehicles or moving animals or whatever on the ground, it is also about the fact that many of the train lines are old, the trains themselves are old, and they have to be at constrained speeds to run. So it really impacts on the regional services that we have. I think we look to a future when rail will be very significantly different, and for those who have travelled overseas we have seen what the future can hold in terms of speeds, in terms of trains that are just outstanding in their design and capacity, and we hope that one day we will get those. It would transform regional Australia to have those sorts of trains available to us because we are seeing a situation where populations are living in metropolitan areas. Many of our regional areas are losing population. This is a real challenge, and we hear people talk about decentralisation at great length, but little is being done to turn that around. Every election cycle we hear grand plans for fast rail services, but none of them have eventuated. Now, having the capacity to do that would be amazing. A fast train between Melbourne and Shepparton, for instance, along with the regular commuter service which you always have to have would transform Shepparton in terms of moving population there, people being able to commute from there, developing all the services within that town, and of course it takes pressure off your metropolitan areas. That is something that I think governments are very conscious of, but they do not how to persuade people to go there. People will not go to regional areas, and it is so difficult to recruit people to those areas unless they know that the education of their children will be well taken care of and that health services will be available and that their connectivity will be good. So these are all things that stand out about rail in regional Victoria.

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