More rail woes for the Wim­mera

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY DEAN LAW­SON

Wim­mera pas­sen­ger-rail ser­vices might be­come a thing of the past if calls for State Gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion con­tinue to fall on deaf ears.

Op­er­a­tors of The Over­land, an in­ter­state and sole pas­sen­ger train op­er­at­ing west of Ararat, have con­firmed fi­nan­cial cir­cum­stances might force them to cease the ser­vice from De­cem­ber 31.

Great South­ern Rail an­nounced late last week the his­toric Ade­laide-mel­bourne train had lost South Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment sup­port.

This meant the ser­vice had im­me­di­ately be­come fi­nan­cially un­vi­able.

The news came as a ma­jor blow to many long-term ad­vo­cates and cam­paign­ers lob­by­ing for a re­turn of Vic­to­rian do­mes­tic pas­sen­ger-train ser­vices to Hor­sham.

The is­sue was at the heart of a Na­tion­als state elec­tion cam­paign in Lowan where Emma Kealy bucked a statewide swing against the Coali­tion to re­tain the seat.

Ms Kealy said de­spite La­bor sweep­ing back into power with an in­creased ma­jor­ity, the gov­ern­ment needed to con­sider the needs of all Vic­to­ri­ans.

“This is a press­ing is­sue – it has been for a while – but we now need an­swers and we need them quickly,” she said.

“Okay, the state has voted the gov­ern­ment back in, but in Lowan, lo­cal peo­ple have voted em­phat­i­cally for a re­turn of pas­sen­ger-rail ser­vices to Hor­sham and Hamil­ton.

“With The Over­land fu­ture se­ri­ously in doubt we need to know now what La­bor plans to do con­sid­er­ing a mas­sive part of Vic­to­ria is un­der threat of be­ing with­out any re­gional pas­sen­ger ser­vice at all.”

Great South­ern Rail man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Steve Ker­naghan said The Over­land needed South Aus­tralian and Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment sup­port for long-term com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­ity.

“This sup­port has heav­ily sub­sidised sig­nif­i­cant op­er­a­tional costs to en­sure af­ford­abil­ity for com­muters,” he said.

“The Vic­to­rian Gov­ern­ment recom­mit­ted its sup­port to The Over­land in Au­gust for an ad­di­tional 15 months.

“But Great South­ern Rail has been no­ti­fied that the South Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment has de­cided not to ex­tend its fi­nan­cial sup­port be­yond this year.”

The South Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tion for the ser­vice, in­volv­ing two stops be­tween Ade­laide and the Vic­to­ri­an­south Aus­tralian bor­der is about $330,000.

The Vic­to­rian fund­ing, based on six stops, in­clud­ing Nhill, Dim­boola, Hor­sham, Stawell, Ararat and Gee­long is about three times more.

An­drew Broad

Fed­eral Mem­ber for Mallee An­drew Broad said rail-pas­sen­ger ser­vices in the re­gion should be in­creas­ing in­stead of de­creas­ing.

“You should be able to catch four re­turn trains be­tween Hor­sham and Mel­bourne, let alone one,” he said.

“The num­bers are there to jus­tify it and the track is sit­ting there wait­ing to be used.

“This part of the world should have been ser­viced by state-based rail a long time ago and I’m sur­prised it hasn’t hap­pened.

“I’ve writ­ten to Pre­mier Daniel An­drews con­grat­u­lat­ing him on his elec­tion win, but have also ex­plained that a pas­sen­ger-rail ser­vice for Hor­sham is one of the top three pri­or­i­ties in my elec­torate. We’ve also drafted a let­ter to South Aus­tralian Pre­mier Steven Mar­shall in which we have talked about the im­por­tance of the in­ter­state line.”

Ms Kealy said news about The Over­land was po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing and am­pli­fied the se­ri­ous­ness of cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing trans­port ser­vices in much of western Vic­to­ria.

“Peo­ple use The Over­land heav­ily, de­spite its in­di­rect route to Mel­bourne, be­cause there are no other ser­vices apart from buses, which are of­ten in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” she said.

Mr Ker­naghan said Great South­ern Rail planned to ad­vise reg­u­lar pa­trons about the cir­cum­stances so they could make in­formed travel de­ci­sions.

“Great South­ern Rail has started to ex­plore any op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to pro­vide a short-term travel phase be­yond De­cem­ber, 2018,” he said.

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