The south-west has been crying out for new trains for decades. Five years after being promised new rolling stock, and hundreds of million of dollars spent so far on track upgrades, the boom gate red lights are flashing with alarm that we may not end up with a better service.
Warrnambool line trains, which for much of this century have been neck and neck with Wodonga for the least punctual, reliable and modern service, are among the last in the state to be upgraded.
Premier Daniel Andrews first promised VLocity trains on the region's line in 2017, predicting they would replace our ageing fleet within 12 to 18 months.
But as we revealed, the new VLocity trains which are now expected to hit the rails in 2024, may not be what we hoped they would be.
V/Line has revealed VLocity trains will have no snack cars and fewer seats whenever they roll into town. The cafe bar is a bespoke feature that won't be included in the current design of the new VLocity trains.
A V/Line spokesman said the overwhelming feedback from passengers was they wanted a fast, reliable train service.
"Which is why we're delivering more modern VLocity trains to give passengers the better services they deserve," he said.
"We understand there are some passengers who would prefer to have catering facilities on board during their journey - we acknowledge this will be a change and will work with them to see what alternative options are possible."
The problem here though is the trains won't actually run any faster than our existing trains, which hit a maximum speed of 115km/h.
The second stage of level crossing upgrades started last year; the first stage works have not yet been completed because of delays associated with the pandemic.
But even when those first stages are completed, the new trains will be restricted to 115km/h. Only after more track upgrades are done will they be able to travel at 160km/h. And money for those works is not yet on the table from either the state or federal governments.
The bill for the upgrades is estimated at $510m. What's our chances of getting more?
State Liberal Party leader Matthew Guy, who travelled to Warrnambool in May on the train, had to organise food to be delivered to him and his entourage at Colac because the snack car was not operating.
He was in Warrnambool again this week and said the service coming our way was unacceptable. "It's totally unreasonable for people to be sitting in a bolt upright position without any access to a café service," he said.
The coalition back in 2018 had promised new trains with first and economy carriages and a cafe service. Our train service has been a centrepiece of state election campaigns for years and it appears it will be again this year.
Given the feedback from readers to our stories in the past week, the topic could be a vote-winner for candidates. And given the seat of South West Coast became marginal at the 2018 election, those votes could be decisive. Is it too late for the government to re-consider its decision? Let's hope the horse hasn't bolted or in this case, the train hasn't left the station.
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