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22 January 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
Horsham mayor Mark Radford remains convinced of a need for day-to-day rail-passenger services from Horsham after experiencing what an interstate Overland rail journey provides.
Cr Radford, a strong advocate for Horsham to connect to V/Line rail services running between Melbourne and Ararat, said the bi-weekly Melbourne to Adelaide Overland train was more part of an overall rail picture for the region than an answer to commuter needs.
Cr Radford has been keen to ‘see for himself’ what the Overland service of today provided and travelled to Melbourne before returning to Horsham.
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He bought an adult return ticket for $86 and during the trip chatted with passengers and staff members from Journey Beyond Rail Expeditions, which provides the service.
“Going to Melbourne there were 100 people on board and coming back there were 90 and the train operators were happy with that,” he said.
“The train averages 85kph, zipping along at times and slowing down at others. It was pretty much four and a half hours from Horsham to Southern Cross Station in Melbourne and that included a wait for a freight train at Geelong.
“In the standard class it was very comfortable.There were great views, an onboard café and afternoon tea was supplied. It was pretty good and very relaxing.
“The demographics of people travelling on the train was also very interesting. There were single people, couples, a lady with a guide dog and a lady with a wheelchair who said the train was her only option. There was a pair of Karen ladies heading to Nhill for New Year celebrations and a young couple from Adelaide who had done train trips around the world.
“I spoke to an 85-year-old lady, travelling from Melbourne who couldn’t drive or fly, and there were two lots of kids, one group that slept all the way and a young lady with a baby in a pram.”
Cr Radford said he used the experiment to visit family in Melbourne and had enjoyed a positive experience.
But he added that while the Overland, in providing an invaluable connection between Adelaide and Melbourne for 133 years and continued to have an important role to play in Australia, let alone the Wimmera, represented only part of a rail-travel equation needed for the region.
“The message from my perspective is that it has an important role to play, especially in promoting tourism. Yes, it provides a service for Wimmera residents, perhaps a service that needs more promotion, but it doesn’t change my view that a regular V/Line commuter link between Horsham and Ararat is a priority,” he said.
“My view is that there is a place for both services for different reasons and we must continue to lobby for a daily shuttle rail service that joins up with Ararat and returns daily from Melbourne that is competitive with the costs of car travel.
“The Overland remains a travel option for people who aren’t in a hurry and are looking for a different and comfortable way of visiting the region – something that we want to promote and exploit. For me, tourism is the big unexplored element of the rail discussion.
“But I can’t see the Overland being a simple day-to-day public transport option – it never would or could be – but I can see the benefits from a tourism perspective.
“What would be a disaster is that if we lost the Overland opportunity altogether and then failed to have any sort of rail transport option into our region. The reality is that at the moment the Overland is our only rail passenger service to and from the Wimmera.”
“In all of this we must remember that affordable and efficient transport must be available to people at short notice as well as opportunities to explore our great country. And while buses play an important role in this transport equation, they are simply unsuitable for some people.”
Cr Radford also made a video of his trip and plans to share information with regional and government leaders as part of Horsham Rural City Council’s advocacy for improvements to and security of rail-passenger services.
“In less than three months, the Overland is scheduled to be shelved and its blue carriages will be sitting unused in a siding somewhere. Not only that, we will be without a rail-passenger service running through the region established more than 130 years ago,” he said.
The entire January 22, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!