We have campaigned long and hard for improved passenger rail services in the south-west and after years of planning, delays and works, light is at the end of the tunnel.
New, faster trains are expected to be on the line next year, some six years after the state government promised them. A fifth daily return service between Melbourne and Warrnambool is expected to be added later this year. The upgrades will be game-changing for the region's public transport and help with tourism, business and divert vehicles from our dilapidated roads.
Unfortunately no trains will be running between Geelong and Warrnambool next week for what will be the region's biggest tourism bonanza in three years. Accommodation is all but full and hospitality venues have all available hands on deck despite the widespread worker shortages. It will be a case of all roads lead to Warrnambool for the May Racing Carnival, the first without COVID-19 restrictions since 2019.
It's disappointing, surprising that only this week it was revealed there would be no trains between Geelong and Warrnambool because of track and signalling upgrades. We understand the works are essential to the bigger picture but where was the planning? Could the shut down of trains been avoided or delayed for next week?
Patrons now face 60-minute longer journey times with buses to transport passengers.
The carnival's festive spirit will no doubt conquer the short-term train pain as the region takes yet another significant step on the road to recovery after the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Next week's carnival will mark the 150th anniversary of the first Grand Annual Steeplechase and give the community a chance to celebrate our heritage.
Volunteerism has been a hallmark of the grand annual and the carnival ever since a Warrnambool publican named Richard Lane came up with the idea of the steeplechase. He acted as starter for the inaugural event, a volunteer role. There have been tens of volunteers helping set up the massive undertaking the carnival has become. We should never take those people for granted. As we reported today, many groups and organisations are crying out for volunteers, who are seemingly a dying breed these days. We need more. Our community spirit that we celebrate not only with the carnival but this weekend's Koroit Irish Festival has been fostered by volunteers - without them our region wouldn't be the same.
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