By Colin MacGillivray
Train signalling upgrades and the announcement of Seymour as a trial centre for Victoria’s promised zero-emissions bus fleet were on the agenda during state Minister for Public Transport and Roads Ben Carroll’s visit to Mitchell Shire last week.
Mr Carroll said the State Government would spend $9.4 million to overhaul the Seymour train line’s outdated signalling system, which had been in use since the 1870s.
Regional public transport operator V/Line’s acting chief executive Johnathan McKeown said a largely automated system would replace archaic double-line block signalling, which involved levers, bells and a telegraph system that must be manually operated.
“Previously it was all run over telegraph systems with bells and morse code. They would talk to each other between the signal boxes with morse code to say the tracks are clear and the lines are right,” he said.
“Going forward we’re putting axle counters in the ground, so the train, when it clears the system, will send a signal back to Centrol in Melbourne and tell them that the track is clear and we can put another train through that section.
“It’s about modernising our network. A lot of money has been spent on the network and for Seymour to be upgraded is good.”
Mr Carroll said the project was part of the government’s $4.5 billion Regional Rail Revival program and would make travelling on the Seymour line safer and faster.
“Whether it’s in Kilmore, whether it’s Ballarat or Bendigo, a lot our rail infrastructure goes back to the old British rail system of the 1870s,” he said.
“We’re about bringing a 21st century regional rail system to Victoria.
“The  Commonwealth Games [in Victoria] are going to have a regional focus, and we want to make sure we’ve got the best rolling stock, the best accessibility and the safest train system in the country.”
Mr Carroll said work would start on the upgrades within two months, with plans to minimise passenger disruption by timing works with regular scheduled line maintenance. Mr McKeown said he expected works to be completed before the end of 2022.
Mr Carroll also announced Seymour would be the regional focal point of Victoria’s $20 million electric bus trial.
Nearly 40 electric buses will replace diesel-powered buses in Melbourne during the three-year trial, with Seymour to receive three electric buses and Traralgon to receive one.
Seymour Passenger Services will operate the new buses.
The government has mandated that all new bus purchased after 2025 must be zero emissions, and has committed to a fully electric bus fleet by 2050.
Mr Carrol said the Seymour trial would give the government information about how an electric bus system would function in regional Victoria.
“In Seymour we’re going look at where we put the charging infrastructure above and beyond the Seymour bus depot. We’re going to look at the local station, shopping areas – all of those things that we know we need to do to transition the bus fleet to zero emissions,” he said.
“We should have one bus in a couple of months and then hopefully by the end of this year we’ve got all the buses online.
“It’s very important for climate change because we know transport is one of the biggest carbon emitters, so rolling out these buses is vital for meeting our climate change pledges.”