It’s one problem after another for passenger trains on the Warrnambool line. First, the line had to be closed because of a signal fault and since trains have resumed, at least half have been late by between 11 and 38 minutes in the past 11 days.
The lack of investment by governments of both political persuasions mean our services really are at the end of the line in terms of funding and priorities.
For more than 15 years, patrons and civic leaders have called for upgraded track and rolling stock. While the previous Liberal government invested in a passing loop to open the door for a fourth daily return service, it is unlikely we will ever see the track improvements that would enable faster, more modern trains on the line.
It is stunning that patronage has risen in recent years when the service has been so far off track. But the numbers underline the service’s importance.
The region needs an efficient and on-time service but it’s impossible for patrons to have confidence they will get to their destination as planned when trains regularly run late or are replaced with buses.
This week it emerged there are speed restrictions at level crossings with limited line of sight. And union members have also slapped a 100km/h speed limit on trains between Waurn Ponds and Warrnambool. With timetables based on a 115km/h limit, it’s no wonder the trains are late.
Transport Minister Jacinta Allan and operator V/Line need to come clean. The first step needs to be an assessment of the state of the track, level crossings and rolling stock. They need to then identify what needs to be done to bring the line and services up to 21st-century standards, the cost of improvements and timeline for implementation.
The public needs answers.
Why can’t the issues be rectified so trains can run at usual speeds? If they can be fixed, when is that likely to happen? Is there a plan?
Ms Allan and the government have promised the long-awaited fourth daily return service from early next month. That will address some of the crowding and flexibility issues around scheduling concerns, but it won’t help punctuality.
Our rail service is broken and it desperately needs fixing.
Ms Allan has an opportunity to get it back on track and hopefully she can, speedily.
Sadly, the pace of change in recent years has been slow going – just like our trains.