More rail woes for the Wimmera
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.
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.