When the ALP won government from Jeff Kennett in the spring of 1999, their promise to extend the Epping line was warmly welcomed by the rapidly growing communities of South Morang, Mill Park, Mernda and Whittlesea.
But local residents were infuriated to learn the Victorian Government didn’t plan to finish the extension until 2021 – not 2003 as originally promised.
So in 2005 they got organised and formed the South Morang Rail Alliance (SMRA), an alliance of community groups in the city of Whittlesea.
One of the people involved in setting up SMRA was local resident Darren Peters, also a member of the Mernda and District Residents Association.
“I got involved because the State Government had reneged on their 1999 election promise to extend the Epping Line to South Morang. I voted for the ALP based on that promise and felt strongly they should be held to account. I had been in the Victorian Youth Parliament as the Youth Governor of Victoria and felt I could contribute my skills and passion”.
The rail extension is vital because the Victorian Government has agreed to an extra 70,000 people moving to Mernda, South Morang and Doreen as part of its controversial decision to extend Melbourne’s Urban Growth Boundary.
“The Victorian Government is opening up vast new areas of Melbourne but they are not keeping pace with essential basic infrastructure such as this rail extension, which are would allow suburbs to function effectively.”
“Plenty Road is a big problem, heavily relied upon by local residents. This might have worked with 1000 residents but with the projected 40,000 residents this arterial road just won’t cope”.
According to Darren, a major issue facing many locals is mortgage stress – compounded by inevitable petrol price rises.
At the moment most households have two or more cars – the railway extension would make the possibility of owning one less car a reality. Although there are local bus services, they take so long to get to Epping station most people end up driving.
“One reason buses are so slow is traffic congestion – trains don’t have this problem. A bus that can carry 40 people can never do the job of a train that can carry 1000”.
In what is a big victory to local residents, siteworks have finally begun on the South Morang rail extension.
“Even though the extension is seven years late it goes to show what the community can achieve by standing up and getting organised.
Darren’s advice to local communities sick of poor public transport is clear:
“Don’t put up with it! Set up a group to pressure the Victorian Government to deliver common sense public transport changes for the benefit of your local community”.
Story by Sarojini Krishnapillai