Shire off line in train talks

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MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire wants Hastings, not Baxter, to be the end of the line when it comes to an electrified railway.

The Labor state government has started a study to assess the cost benefits of electrifying the line from Frankston to Baxter with $3 million from the federal Coalition government.

However, Mornington Peninsula Shire says Baxter – which lies within its municipal boundary – is not suitable for an electric train terminus.

The shire, which feels it has been left out of the planning to electrify the line, says it is “imperative” that it be included in any future discussions.

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison joined fellow Liberal MPs Greg Hunt (Flinders) and Chris Crewther (Dunkley) in Frankston on Friday 11 May to spruik the latest federal budget (“Big bucks for rail but timing means everything” The Times 14/5/18).

Mr Morrison said the rail line extension had long been an important local project.

While the budget includes a pledge to spend $225 million to electrify the rail line to Baxter, Mr Crewther said the total cost had been put at $500-$800 million, so state funding will also be needed.

Labor candidate for Dunkley Peta Murphy branded the funding “a hoax”, saying the full $225 million is not “actually in the budget”.

Neither Mr Crewther or Mr Hunt mentioned electorate boundary changes proposed by the Australian Electoral Commission while in Frankston (“Electoral ground moves for MPs” The Times 10/4/18).

If the AEC’s proposal is adopted, Mr Crewther’s Dunkley electorate would lose Baxter and Mornington, which would then be added to Mr Hunt’s Flinders electorate.

Meanwhile, Mornington Peninsula councillors are wondering why they have not been consulted about major transport changes proposed for a township within their shire.

The shire’s polite approach to the state and federal governments – contained in an “advocacy paper” – belies the real position which sees some councillors seeing red over being left out of talks.

Cr David Gill is a bit more forthright: “In my view is that this distant project is just electioneering for the [electorally] close Frankston area federal seat and if they were serious the shire would have been consulted.”

He said the current federal budget should be “carefully scrutinised to see what will be in future budgets and in how many years time”.

The shire says moving train stabling and maintenance and car parking “down the line” to Baxter “appears to be primarily to free up land in Frankston for development”.

Making land available at Baxter would require “pushing out the Urban Growth Boundary and encroaching on the Mornington Peninsula Green Wedge”.

“Electrification would offer minimal benefit to residents of the Mornington Peninsula, at an unacceptable cost,” the shire states in its advocacy paper.

It goes on to say that Hastings has been identified as a major activity centre and the “Port of Hastings industrial precinct as being of state significance”.

Hastings — connected by rail to Stony Point — “is a far more appropriate destination for electric rail than Baxter”.

The shire says Hastings has the capacity for population and industrial growth and there is “ample land” around its railway station to stable and maintain trains.

“Given the significant impact any changes to the current Stony Point service would have on Mornington Peninsula communities, it is imperative that the Mornington Peninsula Shire council be recognised as a stakeholder and engaged with accordingly in discussions on electrification of any part of the service going forward,” the advocacy paper states.

When asked if the shire had been involved in any discussions with MPs or their representatives, the mayor Cr Bryan Payne said: “Council looks forward to working positively with both levels of government to ensure Mornington Peninsula Shire and the community is kept informed throughout the process. This will help ensure the benefits and impacts that this rail project should bring to the peninsula community will be strategically and carefully worked through in a timely manner.”

First published in the Frankston Times – 21 May 2018

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