TRAINS, both old and new, dominated the news in the region this week for both good reasons and bad. Eddie White’s triumph was evident and well-appreciated as the 1950s-era R711 pulled in shortly after 2pm on Sunday ending a 16-year restoration journey but also signalling the start of what is hoped to be regular visits.
Coincidentally, V/Line reported its best punctuality results for six-and-a-half years a day or so before Eddie’s dream came true.
V/Line CEO James Pinder couldn’t have known how badly he was tempting fate when he said: “Performance is now back to a level our passengers deserve and expect”, adding it was because of a “huge” amount of work including improvements to level crossings and train fleet reliability.
No sooner had the ink dried on the press release before Monday’s services were cancelled due a “major train fault”, buses were provided and, as it transpired, even taxis were used to get passengers to their destinations.
The state government was quick to point out the $114 million upgrade package to the Warrnambool line will provide more services that are both faster and more comfortable.
But as good as the package will be, will it solve deeper issues?
As detractors gleefully point out, today’s train trips take longer than they used to decades ago. Unfortunately for Warrnambool passengers, we are victims of Melbourne’s success at attracting new residents which has seen the western edge of suburbia now ending at Geelong.
This means V/Line is virtually trying to run a metro train service between Waurn Ponds and Spencer Street station with old rolling stock, diesel engines and a multitude of stops it was never meant to make. New trains, level crossing improvements and other welcome improvements will not solve this issue.
The government’s plan seems to be a hybrid, stop-gap solution to a problem of massive proportions that is also being suffered by Ballarat and other regional centres at the end of country lines that are being suburbanised.
And pressure on these lines is sure to continue to pile up with other moves afoot to decrease the number of trucks on our roads by moving more freight on to rail services.
It is time for the government to enunciate its long-term vision for these issues in our region and others like it.